For the first time, we will get an up-close and personal view of the first planet in our solar system lineup thanks to NASA’s Messenger Probe. On March 18, 2011, Messenger will enter into orbit around Mercury, giving us a detailed look at the rocky planet. The last time we got a “close” look at Mercury was in the 1970s via the Mariner 10 spacecraft. Mariner 10 took pictures of less than half of Mercury’s surface, so much about the planet and its history remains a mystery. NASA hopes Messenger will provide more information about the chemical composition of the surface and interior of Mercury.
Messenger was launched back in 2004, and has taken its time getting into orbit around the final destination. Several flybys have occurred since the launch – one Earth flyby in 2005, two Venus flybys in 2006 and 2007, and three Mercury flybys, twice in 2008 and once in 2009. Orbital insertion around Mercury will take place tomorrow, and the spacecraft will remain there with a 12-hour orbital period for at least one Earth year.
For some awesome facts about Messenger, check out Space.com’s 10 Surprising Facts About Messenger.