Ten years and nearly nine months since launch, four years and nearly a month and a half since orbital insertion, the highly successful MESSENGER mission has come to an end, the spacecraft impacting the surface of Mercury at 3.91 km/s. At that point of the orbit, the spacecraft was on the far side of Mercury, as viewed from Earth, but the lack of a response when one should once again be possible otherwise is confirmation enough, and there were obviously other ways to determine what was happening more accurately as well. Still, what we have at the moment are estimates of the time and place made a day before impact, with the listed time of impact being 7:26:02 PM UTC, and apparently its final image. Although the Deep Space Network seemed to show that communication was briefly reestablished later, it was likely a glitch, as confirmation of the loss of contact was posted shortly afterwards.
This short post is merely meant to mark the moment, including even less than the one I wrote after orbital insertion, which at least offered a timeline of the mission’s major milestones up to that point. But making such a list now would be difficult, unfair and, well, simply wrong, since MESSENGER was a mission I obviously appreciated and had some interest in and talked about from time to time, but not one I followed even like I do Kepler, Dawn or New Horizons, which is still less than I should. Besides, considering the wealth of information available, some of which I’ll probably also go through over the coming days, what difference would a few mentions on an obscure blog make?
Still, I can’t end this without saying thank you to all those who imagined, planned, designed, built, tested and operated the mission and spacecraft, and obviously also to all those who analyzed and worked with the information received from it. And, since at such times it’s difficult not to personify, thank you MESSENGER as well, for everything.
Using such an insane trajectory to successfully enter orbit around such a small planet that’s so close to the Sun and then using every possible method, trick, subsystem and substance available to get over four years out of a mission initially planned to last for one, possibly two, under such harsh conditions and without benefiting from any past experience, seeing as it’s the first time we had a spacecraft orbiting Mercury, is a tremendous achievement in itself. And that’s before considering all the information received, the questions answered and the new ones asked, paving the way for future missions… If any others will come in the foreseeable future, considering the bleak picture the reduced public and governmental interest and funding paint of the future of space exploration.