January 15, 2008

'Ice' Congratulates 'Fire' on a Successful Mercury Flyby

The New Horizons Pluto-Kuiper Belt exploration team sends hearty congratulations to its colleagues on the MESSENGER mission, who orchestrated an historic flyby of the planet Mercury on Jan. 14.

The New Horizons and MESSENGER spacecraft – both built and operated by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md. – make up NASA’s “Fire and Ice” tandem, set out to explore the extreme frontiers of the solar system. New Horizons is two years into its decade-long voyage to Pluto and the frozen, rocky environs of the distant Kuiper Belt. Headed in the opposite direction, MESSENGER will be the first spacecraft to orbit the Sun’s closest planetary neighbor. 

“From one mission of pioneering exploration to another, congratulations to the MESSENGER team!” says New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of NASA Headquarters. 

MESSENGER will fly by Mercury two more times before settling into a yearlong orbit around the planet in March 2011. It’s only the second spacecraft to even fly past the innermost planet, and is gathering data on parts of Mercury’s surface the first visitor, NASA’s Mariner 10, couldn’t see when it sped by three times in the mid-1970s.

“The New Horizons team shares the excitement about the new knowledge that MESSENGER will provide about Mercury,” says Glen Fountain, New Horizons project manager at APL.

Check out the latest images and news from MESSENGER at http://messenger.jhuapl.edu.

MESSENGER took this "movie" of Mercury as it approached the planet from Jan. 9-13, 2008. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)