July 9, 1999 The MESSENGER mission to investigate the planet Mercury – led by Principal Investigator Sean C. Solomon of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, D.C., and managed by The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL), Laurel, Md. – has been selected by NASA as one of two new Discovery Program missions.
JHU/APL will design and build the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging (or MESSENGER) spacecraft, which will be the first spacecraft to visit the closest planet to the sun in more than three decades. Scheduled for launch in 2004, MESSENGER will flyby Mercury twice in 2008 to gather data to guide the next step: a year-long orbit to conduct detailed scientific studies of the planet beginning September 2009.
"Understanding Mercury and the forces that shaped it is fundamental to understanding other terrestrial planets and their evolution," says JHU/APL project manager Max R. Peterson.
Seven miniaturized instruments aboard MESSENGER will attempt to peel back Mercury's veil of mystery, answering such key scientific questions as: Why is Mercury so dense, What are the characteristics and dynamics of its thin atmosphere and Earth-like magnetosphere, and What is the nature of the planet's mysterious polar caps?
JHU/APL project scientist Ralph L. McNutt Jr. says in addition to its harvest of scientific information, the $286 million MESSENGER mission has the potential to develop new technologies that can be transferred to industry.
The Applied Physics Laboratory is a not-for-profit laboratory and independent division of The Johns Hopkins University. APL conducts research and development primarily for national security and for nondefense projects of national and global significance. APL is located midway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., in Laurel, Md.
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