Mercury flyby goes problem free

Jan. 14, 2008 at 10:29 PM
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BALTIMORE, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- For the first time in 33 years, a space probe Monday zipped close to Mercury, snapping photos as it went by.

NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft made the first pass of Mercury since 1975 to applause in the mission control room at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, reported Monday.

"It went right according to script, so that was very comforting," said MESSENGER principal investigator Sean Solomon of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

MESSENGER, which stands for Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging, was just 124 miles above the surface in the first of three planned flybys to guide the spacecraft toward an eventual orbit around Mercury in 2011. It is expected to begin transmitting hundreds of photos back to Earth Tuesday, said.

Researchers hope to solve the mystery of the planet's high-density magnetic field and thin atmosphere, as well as possibly shed new light on how planets formed earlier in the solar system.

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