Talk about making an exit.
NASA’s Messenger spacecraft, which they launched in 2004 to orbit and study Mercury, is going out of commission next week. Out of fuel, the spacecraft, only 3 meters wide, will crash into Mercury’s surface at a speed of 8,750 mph, leaving behind a crater with a diameter of 16 meters.
Messenger’s Twitter account remains remarkable upbeat about its demise, which is projected to be April 30.
#AskNASA Please give my thanks to the team. It has been a wonderful and exciting trip!
— MESSENGER (@MESSENGER2011) April 16, 2015
In a release, NASA states that Messenger’s mission is an “unprecedented success.” NASA scientists say that little was known about the closest planet to the sun before Messenger.
“For the first time in history we now have real knowledge about the planet Mercury that shows it to be a fascinating world as part of our diverse solar system,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, in the statement. “While spacecraft operations will end, we are celebrating Messenger as more than a successful mission. It’s the beginning of a longer journey to analyze the data that reveals all the scientific mysteries of Mercury.”
It took six and half years for Messenger to reach Mercury and get into its orbit, NASA states. Its prime mission was to orbit the planet and send data back to Earth. NASA reports that one “key finding” was that Mercury had ice in its polar regions, giving scientists an idea of how planets acquired water. Messenger’s last maneuver is scheduled for April 24.
Unfortunately, the crash is going to be on the side facing away from Earth, so NASA scientists will not be able to watch it in real time. They say findings will help them on future space missions.
Goodbye, little Messenger. It feels like we barely knew you.