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Mercury - Missions to Mercury

With the exception of Pluto, Mercury is a neglected planet when it comes to exploration - Pluto on the other hand has NEVER been visited - the New Horizons probe is on its way to solve that discrepancy.

In addition, you may want to check out AeroSpaceGuide. This site has some interesting facts as well as mission summaries.

Before MESSENGER, only one probe has ever visited Mercury, and that is Mariner 10. Launched in 1973, the Mariner 10 probe was the first probe to use gravity assist. By using the gravity of Venus, the Mariner 10 was able to use very little fuel while managing a flyby of Mercury three times. The mission ended in March of 1975.

As of right now, the MESSENGER probe in en route to Mercury. The probe was launched on August 2, 2004 and will enter the orbit of Mercury on March 18, 2011. While en route, Earth will be re-visited and Venus will be visited twice.

The October 6, 2008 flyby of Messenger has brought forth new questions and confirmation of old ideas. There is a tiny atmosphere and a huge magnetic field. More of Mercury's surface is revealed, this time with rays and scarps (also called rupes).

The rays are most likely debris from newer impacts. An interesting discovery are the location of the scarps, some forming within newer craters which mean these are a fairly new geological feature. A large crater was spied due north, but we will have to wait until orbital insertion. As a side thought, I have wondered if tidal flexing by the Sun could form these scarps.

The European Space Agency has plans to send its own Mercury probe called BepiColombo. The planned launch date is January 2011 and the mission is planned to end in January 2015. It is currently under development.

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