MESSENGER – Mission to Mercury


A little off-topic from my normal diatribes, but here’s one of the many reasons January is going to be an exciting month around the RoeDeo household: the MESSENGER mission (one of Dr. Wizard‘s consuming activities) finally does its first flyby of its intended destination: the planet Mercury.

Came back from our holiday trip to the UK in time to see a nice picture of the spacecraft and a blurb in the local Gazette:

On Jan. 14, the spacecraft MESSENGER will make the first of its three flybys of the planet Mercury — the first time in three decades that a spacecraft has visited this fast little planet close to the sun. The craft is examining the planet’s environmental characteristics and will take images of its surface, measure the charged particles in the magnetosphere, plot
topography and analyze surface minerals. The Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns
Hopkins University in Baltimore manages the mission for NASA. Mission details:
http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/index.php.

Very cool! There will be lots more press coverage in the coming weeks, and Dr. Wizard is already polishing her press-conference chops. Cogito.org just posted a nice Q & A with her, in fact.

What amazes me about these missions (okay, there are LOTS of things that amaze me!) is the sheer arc of the timeline…I was fortunate enough to witness the launch of the spacecraft — in the wee wee hours of a Florida morning in the summer of 2004.

Standing on the beach a mile away and watching the giant rocket lift into the sky was an awe-inspiring, spectacular event, which is hardly surprising. But what did catch me off-guard was how emotional it was for the folks around me: engineers, scientist, and other people who had already been working for YEARS on the project just to get it to lift-off stage. Some people can work their entire careers on just one mission, which requires a completely different mindset than the daily crank-it-out grind of working in media. And it’s not like you get re-takes if you mess up a calculation, either!

So I remain awestruck and impressed. Launch was three-and-a-half years ago; first flyby this month; and Messenger doesn’t actually go into orbit around Mercury until 2011. How many sitcoms will have been canceled by then?

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