NASA Probe Snaps Photos of Mercury But Suffers Minor Glitch
By Andrea Thompson
posted: 30 September 2009
09:50 am ET
This story was updated at 10:45 a.m. EDT.
A NASA spacecraft that completed its third and final flyby of the planet Mercury yesterday, snapping new pictures of the innermost planet, had a small data hiccup that has delayed release of the images, mission engineers said today.
The MESSENGER probe skimmed just 142 miles (228 km) above Mercury at its closest approach as it whipped around the planet during the flyby, the last of three designed to guide the spacecraft into orbit around the planet in 2011.
The spacecraft did snap several new images of the rocky planet on the inbound leg of its close approach.
"We do have some new science from the flyby," said MESSENGER project scientist Ralph McNutt of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
MESSENGER also took snapshots during its close approach, but "we had a little bit of a hiccup in the data" that has delayed the release of those images, said Eric Finnegan, systems engineer for the mission at Johns Hopkins APL. "It's coming," he added.
The anomaly appears to have happened right around the spacecraft's close approach, so there may not be images from the outbound leg of the journey, McNutt said.
"We missed a little icing on the cake," McNutt told SPACE.com.
Despite the hiccup, the spacecraft is in good health, Finnegan told SPACE.com.
"What is important is that the spacecraft and the instruments are healthy," McNutt said.
The team is sifting through all the data and new images to see just how much they got before the glitch, McNutt added.
"We're all working through this," he said.
MESSENGER made its closest approach to Mercury at about 5:55 p.m. EDT (2155 GMT) when it sped by at about 12,000 mph (19,312 kph). The probe then flew behind Mercury, passing out of communications with Earth for about an hour before restoring contact.
Mercury's gravity was expected to slow MESSENGER by about 6,000 mph (9,656 kph) during the flyby and place it on track to enter orbit in March 2011.
The $446 million spacecraft flew by Mercury twice in 2008 to map the planet in unprecedented detail while using the rocky world's gravitational pull to refine its flight path through space.
The spacecraft is the first probe to visit Mercury since NASA's Mariner 10 mission in the mid-1970s.
When MESSENGER arrives in its final orbit around Mercury, it will begin a long-awaited observation phase that will complete its new maps of the planet. NASA launched MESSENGER - short for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging - in 2004. The probe swung past Earth once and Venus twice before beginning its three Mercury flybys.
Read the story on Space.com and see video of Mercury.
Official NASA Messenger site - MESSENGER will fly by Mercury for the third and final time on Sept. 29
Wikipedia entries for Mercury
Former Montreal, Quebec busker and clown, now Canadian Billionaire, Guy Laliberté, founder of Cirque du Soleil launches on his way to ISS...
Cirque founder launches into space
Last Updated: Wednesday, September 30, 2009 | 7:51 PM ET
Guy Laliberté, founder of Cirque du Soleil, became Canada's first space tourist early Wednesday when he blasted off for the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule.
The 50-year-old Canadian creator of the famed circus troupe paid $35 million US to accompany cosmonaut Maxim Surayev and astronaut Jeffrey Williams on the two-day journey to the space station.
The Soyuz capsule shed its rocket stages and entered orbit minutes after shooting up from the Baikonur launch facility.
The Soyuz spacecraft is scheduled to dock at the International Space Station on Oct. 2, where Laliberté, Surayev and Williams will be welcomed by Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk, who is on a six-month visit, and five other astronauts.
Family and friends on the ground chanted "Guy! Guy!" and sang Rocket Man as it was announced the ship had reached orbit.
"I'm very happy for him. It's amazing," Laliberté's partner, former model Claudia Barilla, tearfully told The Associated Press while she still wore a yellow clown nose.
"I feel a lot more mesmerized than I ever thought I would be," Quebec singing star Garou said after the launch. "Having your friend rising up that fast and that impressively is beyond what I expected."
Laliberté gave the cabin's in-flight camera a double thumbs-up just minutes into the flight and told ground control he felt "super."
Footage from the capsule showed Surayev and Williams strapped in, operating controls and waving occasionally for the camera. Laliberté has a seat on the right-hand side of the cabin, next to a small porthole.
A mission control official communicating with the astronauts said they are all in excellent spirits.
Laliberté said before liftoff that he had packed a collection of clown noses to give to the astronauts on the space station.
"I promise I will plant as much as possible nose clowns in space," he said. "So it will be not only brilliant stars but colourful stars in the future."
Laliberté and his two fellow astronauts were cheered by supporters wearing red clown noses during pre-launch preparations.
As the trio climbed into their capsule on the launch pad, they sang the pop song Mammy Blue.
Laliberté, who is now the seventh private citizen to blast into space, hopes his 12-day stay aboard the station will help raise awareness of drinking-water problems around the world when he hosts the first multimedia event from the station on Oct. 9 to highlight that crisis.
The two-hour show, called "Moving Stars and Earth for Water," will feature former U.S. vice-president Al Gore, and musicians including rock band U2. It is to be carried live on the website onedrop.org.
'The first clown in space'
"I’m not a scientist, I’m not a doctor like the other participants. I’m not a professional. So I’m really the first clown in space,” he told CBC News earlier. “So it's important they understand that. But they also understand that the guy behind the nose of a clown is the chief of the Cirque du Soleil. That I have a mission in regard to humanitarian cause.”
Guy Laliberté jokes after putting on his space suit on Wednesday. (Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters)Earlier this month, Laliberté told reporters he will try to lighten things up on the orbiting station.
"I'm a person with a pretty high spirit, who's there to crack jokes and make jokes to those guys and while they're sleeping, you know, I'll be tickling them," Laliberté said.
Laliberté has been in quarantine for the last two weeks getting ready. To prepare for the trip, he worked out for several hours a day, losing more than 25 pounds. He has spent the last five months biking, studying and preparing for the weightlessness of space.
More story in "Cirque founder launches into space" on CBC.ca
'Clown' tourist blasts into space on the BBC
"The vessel lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 0714 GMT."
And now the for Sky views:
Messenger 3rd flyby of Mercury:
At the Messenger Mercury 3rd flyby 21:55 GMT 9.29.09 from Washington, DC (South View):
WOLF - Lupus (REF:see my Shakira Posts this month!) and Galactic Center/Milky Way straddling the Horizon with Ophiuchus at zenith due South. Mercury Setting in the West with Venus setting at horizon due West.
At the Messenger Mercury 3rd flyby 21:55 GMT 9.29.09 from Washington, DC (West View):
Guy Laliberté Launch:
At the Guy Laliberté Launch 07:14 GMT 9.30.09 from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan (East View):
Archangel URIEL (Satevis) - the star Antares and WOLF/Lupus rising in the East. Saturn, Mercury, Venus, Virgo, due South.
At the Guy Laliberté Launch 07:14 GMT 9.30.09 from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan (West View):
The Hunter (Orion), Archangel Michael - the star Aldebaran (Tasoheter), The Bull (Taurus), Sirius setting in West.
At the Guy Laliberté Launch 07:14 GMT 9.30.09 from viewed from Washington, DC (East View):
Regulus (Archangel Raphael), Sirius, the Hunter (Orion) rising in the East.
At the Guy Laliberté Launch 07:14 GMT 9.30.09 viewed from Washington, DC (South View):
Aldebaran at zenith, Archangel Gabriel - the star Fomalhaut (Hastorang) setting in the SouthWest.
Lovin the Space Alchemy of it all...
We have Mercury, to Gold (SUN / Soleil) with a son (Laliberté / Freedom) of Alcan Aluminum exec...
ISS / ZARYA:
Zaria / (ZARYA, is the name of the goddess of beauty in Slavic mythology who's associated with the morning/dawn/sunrise. In Russian, Zaria (also Zarya) is the word for 'sunrise'.
(Sky/Star images from Redshift 7 - Free download @ http://www.redshift-live.com)
September 29 - the Catholic Feast day of the Archangels - Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.