The mission began with launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on August 3, 2004. After returning to Earth for a gravity assist on August 2, 2005, MESSENGER headed toward the first of two Venus flybys. The first occurred on October 24, 2006, when the spacecraft
approached the planet from its dayside. MESSENGER again flies past a
mostly sunlit Venus on June 5, 2007.
The Mercury flybys on January
14, 2008, October 6, 2008, and September 29, 2009, will provide
the first close-up look at Mercury in more than 30 years. On
all three flybys, the spacecraft departs with sunlit views of
the planet, taking pictures of the regions not seen by the first
spacecraft to visit Mercury - Mariner 10. This early science
return will be invaluable in planning observation strategies
for MESSENGER's historic yearlong orbit mission, which begins
in March 2011.
On the way, MESSENGER will also perform several trajectory correction maneuvers, thruster burns that adjust its path to Mercury.
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