A NASA Discovery mission to conduct the first orbital study
of the innermost planet
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Monthly Cleaning

Keeping MESSENGER clean might not be glamorous work, but it's an important job. Despite the strict measures to keep dust out of the spacecraft assembly and testing areas, some particles do get on MESSENGER. So, about every month, team members roll up their sleeves and clean!

In the upper left section of the above Webcam image, engineers develop a strategy to clean the spacecraft efficiently and safely - deciding who will do what, where to place the ladders, and in what order the surfaces should be cleaned. At top right the team checks if the room is dark enough with only the emergency lights on. (This seems silly at first: who can clean in the dark? But a great way to find dirt is to inspect the spacecraft with a black light.) At lower left, the lights are back on as the team positions ladders and prepares to start cleaning. At lower right, the team members clean MESSENGER's top deck, guided by the handheld black light.

Four people take part: one holding the black light on top of one ladder; another vacuuming on the top of a second ladder; and two others holding ladders and making sure the entire operation is safe for the spacecraft and personnel. After cleaning is complete, the team applies special tape to areas of the spacecraft, lifts it off, and then takes it to a microscope to count the particles. If the number of particles exceeds "clean" limits, the spacecraft is cleaned and checked again. The spacecraft must be cleaner than an operating room to ensure that it will work properly.

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Last updated: May 7, 2004

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