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MESSENGER Mission News
August 15, 2011

MESSENGER Co-Investigator Elected Fellow of the Geological Society of America
MESSENGER Co-Investigator Louise Prockter has been elected a fellow of the Geological Society of America (GSA). Established in 1888, the GSA — comprised of about 25,000 members — seeks to foster the quest for understanding the Earth, planets, and life; catalyze new scientific ways of thinking about natural systems; and support the application of geoscience knowledge and insight to human needs, aspirations, and Earth stewardship.

To become a fellow, an honor reserved for less than 3 percent of the national society’s members, honorees must be nominated by an existing GSA fellow in recognition of distinguished contributions to the geosciences and approved by the entire GSA senate.

Prockter “is deserving of this recognition because of her high standing in the scientific community, contributions to major spacecraft missions, the significance of her planetary geology research, her leadership of scientific teams, and her service through editorships, peer review panels, and as a GSA officer in the Planetary Geology Division,” wrote NASA Geophysicist Herbert V. Frey, in the nomination letter he submitted.

Prockter is the supervisor of the Space Department’s Planetary Exploration Group at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. As MESSENGER Deputy Project Scientist, she helps ensure that the mission will meet or exceed its scientific objectives. She earlier served as Instrument Scientist for the mission’s Mercury Dual Imaging System. Her experience also includes work on the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous and Galileo missions.

She will be recognized as a GSA fellow at the national meeting of the society to be held in Minneapolis in October. Read more about Prockter at http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/who_we_are/member_focus_082807.html.

Scientists Gather for 23rd Science Team Meeting

On August 16, more than 100 members of the MESSENGER Science Team will convene on the campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for the 23rd Science Team Meeting to discuss findings from the spacecraft’s first five months in orbit.

Having completed 152 days in orbit, MESSENGER is well into its primary mission to initiate a new era in understanding the innermost planet. Its payload of seven instruments and the spacecraft’s radio-frequency telecommunications system have already gathered new data that are being used to characterize the planet’s interior, surface, atmosphere, and magnetosphere.

A panel of scientists shared early findings from the first 25 percent of MESSENGER’s yearlong orbital mission at a NASA press conference on June 16, which can be viewed online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAsoNC73uRE. Team members have summarized early scientific results from orbital observations at several science conferences held this summer. Abstracts of presentations from some of those meetings are available online at http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/soc/presentations.html.

During its one-year primary mission, MESSENGER is scheduled to acquire more than 75,000 images and many other types of observations in support of the mission’s science goals. New images continue to be released at least once per weekday and can be viewed here: http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/gallery/sciencePhotos/. Highlights of science gathered from Mercury’s orbit are also available online at http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/soc/highlights070711.html.

“The cadence of MESSENGER Science Team meetings has picked up since orbit insertion,” says MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. “With the steady stream of new observations from the full suite of payload instruments, the veil of mystery that has enshrouded the innermost planet lifts farther each day. This week’s meeting will give our team a critical opportunity to share results and compare interpretations. Planetary and solar processes interact more strongly at Mercury than for any other Solar System body, so cross-disciplinary discussions are key to understanding what we’ve seen to date.”

A Physicist Relishes the Challenge of Puzzling through MESSENGER’s Tasks

While growing up in Montclair, N.J., MESSENGER Deputy Mission Operations Manager Karl Whittenburg loved to read science fiction and was always interested in space exploration — especially the Viking missions to Mars in the mid to late 1970s and early 1980s. Read more about Whittenburg’s contributions to the MESSENGER mission online at 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 entered orbit about Mercury on March 17, 2011 (March 18, 2011 UTC), to begin a yearlong study of its target planet. 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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