MESSENGER: The Mission
MESSENGER is a scientific investigation
of the planet Mercury, the least explored terrestrial
planet. Understanding Mercury and how
it was formed is essential to understanding the other terrestrial
planets and their evolution. Mercury has been visited by only one
other spacecraft, Mariner 10, so we know little more than its average
density (the second greatest of all the planets), the composition
of its atmosphere (thinnest of the terrestrial planets), the fact
that it posses a global magnetic
field, and its extreme variations in
temperature. MESSENGER will serve to lift some of the uncertainty
about this innermost planet of our solar system.
The MESSENGER mission will orbit Mercury after making three flybys of the planet, using data collected during the flybys as an initial guide to perform a more focused scientific investigation of this mysterious world. MESSENGER will investigate six key scientific questions about Mercury’s characteristics and environment with a set of miniaturized space instruments. The spacecraft will enter Mercury orbit in March 2011 and carry out comprehensive measurements for one full Earth year.