Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New pics from Messenger, first spacecraft placed in ORBIT around Mercury

It didn't make much of a splash on the political blogs I usually monitor, but I think this is the sort of news progressives should be stressing as we battle to turn back the raging hordes of wrong-wing ideologues trying to create a New Dark Age.

Last week, NASA successfully placed our Messenger spacecraft (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging) into orbit around the planet Mercury. Placing spacecraft in orbit may sound rather commonplace today, but getting something into orbit around the first planet is actually quite a feat of space engineering. A spacecraft traveling directly from Earth to Mercury would be accelerated so much by the sun's gravity that it would pass Mercury far too quickly to orbit it.

NASA's solution was to launch the spacecraft in August 2004, and perform a complex series of flybys of Earth (once), Venus (twice), and Mercury itself (three times), which allowed Messenger to be slowed relative to Mercury with minimal fuel, according to Wikipedia. This is one of the reasons I just adore NASA: they repeatedly and spectacularly disprove the wrong-wingers' shibboleth that government is, by nature, unable to get a job done right, has 25 photos and graphics, including some of the pictures sent back by Messenger. The picture above is actually a collage of photos Messenger transmitted back to us as it departed Mercury back in October, 2008

And here is NASA's own gallery of images from Messenger, along with a bunch of other neat looking links.

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