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Mercury Flyby

October 16, 2009

The MESSENGER spacecraft has completed its final flyby of the planet Mercury before it goes into orbit around the planet.


A close call on Mercury. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

The MESSENGER spacecraft left earth over five years ago on a mission to attain orbit around the planet Mercury in 2011. Recently, it took it’s last big step toward that goal by skimming by the surface of Mercury at a height of just 228 kilometers, or 142 miles. Mission Design Lead Engineer Jim McAdams says they hit their spot with incredible accuracy.

After going a billion kilmeters over a year and half, we’re missing our targeted altitude by just a third of a kilometer, or a couple hundred meters.

Mission control lost contact with MESSENGER just after the encounter due to a spacecraft malfunction, but it reconfigured itself quickly and is now fully operational. MESSENGER is now in a big loop that will bring it back to the planet at just the right angle and speed to go into orbit a year and a half from now. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.