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MESSENGER Mission News
December 7, 2010

One Hundred Days until Mercury Orbit Insertion
One hundred days from now, MESSENGER will execute a 15-minute maneuver that will place the spacecraft into orbit about Mercury, making it the first craft ever to do so, and initiating a one-year science campaign to understand the innermost planet. It has already been 14 years since this mission was first proposed to NASA, more than 10 years since the project officially began, and over six years since the spacecraft was launched.

A multitude of milestones have been passed on the way toward the primary science phase of the mission, including six planetary flybys and five deep-space maneuvers. This week the team has completed a milestone of a different sort: the orbital readiness review.

Today’s review was the culmination of more than one year of major reviews designed to confirm the readiness of all mission elements to achieve orbit about Mercury next March and to begin orbital operations shortly thereafter.

“For this and many reviews before it we have called on a number of experts outside the MESSENGER project, from both APL and outside institutions, to review our plans to see where there are gaps or weak spots,” explains MESSENGER Project Manager Peter Bedini of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. “The intent is to tap the knowledge-base of those who have lived through similar challenges, and to make any adjustments that promise to improve the chances of success in our prime mission.”

“There is still work to do in preparation for orbit insertion next March, and those preparations will also be reviewed, but today’s review was the last in a long series laid out more than a year ago,” Bedini adds.

“MESSENGER has been on a long journey,” adds MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, “but the promised land lies ahead. All of the preparations for orbit insertion and orbital operations by the project team and the mission’s many review panels have served to maximize the likelihood that the intensive exploration of the innermost planet will begin smoothly and efficiently 100 days from now.”

American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Names Two MESSENGER Team Members as Associate Fellows

MESSENGER Project Scientist Ralph McNutt and Robin Vaughan, the lead engineer for the mission’s guidance and control subsystem, have been named Associate Fellows of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

To be selected for the grade of Associate Fellow an individual must be an AIAA Senior Member with at least 12 years professional experience in their field and have been recommended by at least three AIAA members who are already Associate Fellows. The 2011 Associate Fellows will be honored at the AIAA Associate Fellows Dinner on January 4, 2011, at the Orlando World Center Marriott, Orlando, Fla., as part of the 49th AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting.

McNutt, a pioneer in solar neutrino research, has been involved in a broad range of space physics research over the last three decades. On MESSENGER, he serves as the Principal Investigator's "right hand man" in assuring that the spacecraft, mission design, and experiment plan answer all six of the major science questions being investigated by the project.

Vaughan has nearly 20 years of experience with interplanetary missions. She coordinated, planned and conducted tests for spacecraft integration through launch, and continues to monitor the craft's performance in flight. To learn more about her critical role on the MESSENGER team, read a profile at http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/who_we_are/member_focus_032707.html.

“Ralph and Robin have each made major contributions to the planning, development, and operation of the MESSENGER mission, as well as to a number of other space projects,” offers MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon. “It is heartening to see these contributions recognized by AIAA.”

MESSENGER's X-Ray Visionary

MESSENGER Instrument Scientist Richard Starr has been working with the X-Ray Spectrometer on the MESSENGER spacecraft since the beginning. During its design and test phases, he made sure the instrument would meet the requirements of the Science Team. Now, he reviews its data daily. To learn more about Starr, read his profile here: http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/who_we_are/member_focus.html.

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.

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