After more than ten years, after more traveling more than eight billion miles, The MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) will crash into Mercury in less than two weeks, according to Sci-News.com.
The crash will be spectacular, with the spacecraft moving at 8,750 miles an hour. Scientists have been using helium gas as a propellent to fight the downward push caused by our sun’s gravity. On April 24, the last of four correctional maneuvers will exhaust the supply of propellent on the MESSENGER. Approximately six days later, gravity will cause the collision.
The spacecraft has been nearing the surface of the planet for steadily. At times it is as near as 3.7 miles above the surface of Mercury.
Almost all real data and understanding of the planet is a result of the MESSENGER. It has relayed 255,858 images to earth while orbiting Mercury for 1,232 days at an average speed of 92,730 miles an hour. Another spacecraft, the Mariner, flew past Mercury three time between 1974 and 1975, but collected relatively little data and photographic images.
MESSENGER was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida in 2004. Before arriving at Mercury it had already traveled 4.9 billion miles. The spacecraft flew around our sun 29 times, cruised past Venus twice, the Earth one time, and then went far around Mercury three times before insertion into orbit. There it circled approximately 3.1 billion miles.
Though MESSENGER is still adding to that mileage total, it’s days are now numbered. In all likelihood the crash landing will occur April 30, ending a mission of more than ten years.