Friday, May 1, 2015

MESSENGER is dead...

MESSENGER is dead...  This was a completely expected, and actually planned end to the MESSENGER mission to the planet Mercury.  If you're a regular reader of this blog, you've seen a couple dozen posts I've made over the past few years about MESSENGER's series of discoveries about the formerly quite mysterious planet.  The spacecraft finally ran out of fuel and alternative propellants, and the inevitable effects of the Sun's gravity on its orbit caused it to crash.  Toward the end of its mission – the past few months – the flight controllers came up with same very ingenious ways to extend its life beyond the original plan.  They used solar wind pressure to reduce the need for thruster fuel, and when the fuel ran out they used the helium gas used to pressurize the fuel as a last-ditch propellant.  They also carefully trimmed the orbit down to the point where, if you were on the Mercurial surface, you could almost reach up and touch the spacecraft.  Quite a feat!

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