Status Report

MESSENGER Approaches Two Billion Miles!

By SpaceRef Editor
September 17, 2007
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MESSENGER Approaches Two Billion Miles!

On September 13, MESSENGER will reach the two billion-mile mark, placing the spacecraft about two-fifths of the way toward its destination to orbit Mercury. “This type of milestone is an impressive measure of how far we’ve traveled,” says MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon.

“We can’t take our craft into the shop for its two billion-mile check-up, but our experienced team is doing everything we can to ensure that at the end our journey our mission will be accomplished in full.”

Mercury orbits deep within the well of the Sun’s gravity. So, even though the closest planet to the Sun can be as close as 82 million kilometers (51 million miles) from Earth, getting the one-ton MESSENGER probe into orbit around Mercury is an extraordinarily difficult undertaking. The mission depends on the use of compact scientific instruments, lightweight materials, and an innovative trajectory using the gravity of Earth, Venus and Mercury itself to slow and shape the probe’s descent into the inner solar system.

On its 4.9 billion-mile journey to becoming the first spacecraft to orbit the planet Mercury, MESSENGER has flown by Earth once and Venus twice to pick up gravity assists that are propelling it deeper into the inner solar system. Still to come are three flybys of Mercury. Up next is an October 17 course correction event that will adjust MESSENGER’s orbit in preparation for an encounter on January 14, 2008, that will bring it 200 kilometers (124 miles) above the surface of Mercury. Even though the MESSENGER spacecraft is three and a half years from reaching its final destination, the mission Science Team has been collecting data and sharing it with the larger scientific community. Those plans and results are available online at

For a complete look at MESSENGER’s journey, visit the Mission Design section of the Web site at To see where MESSENGER is now, visit

Meet One of the Masterminds behind MESSENGER’s Demanding Trajectory Jim McAdams’ long-time interest in science and math led him to pursue degrees in aeronautical and astronautical engineering. But it was his experience as an intern at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory that ignited his interest in planetary exploration. Find out more about this pivotal member of the MESSENGER team at

MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) is a NASA-sponsored scientific investigation of the planet Mercury and the first space mission designed to orbit the planet closest to the Sun. The MESSENGER spacecraft launched on August 3, 2004, and after flybys of Earth, Venus, and Mercury will start a yearlong study of its target planet in March 2011. Dr. Sean C. Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, leads the mission as principal investigator. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory built and operates the MESSENGER spacecraft and manages this Discovery-class mission for NASA.

SpaceRef staff editor.