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December 18, 2009

Media Contacts:

Paulette Campbell
The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.

MESSENGER Probe Earns Praise from Popular Press

Two national magazines have recognized the MESSENGER mission to Mercury for its engineering and scientific accomplishments. Discover named MESSENGER one its top 100 science stories of 2009, and the probe was named one of Time’s best 50 inventions of 2009.

In its January/February 2010 issue, Discover published a special report on “100 astonishing discoveries from the past year — the ideas and breakthroughs that are reshaping our understanding of the World.” The MESSENGER mission, led by The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) for NASA, came in at number 28.

MESSENGER’s three flybys of Mercury “have given scientists a vast amount of new information about the solar system’s smallest, hottest planet,” the editors wrote. This “trickle” of information will become a “flood,” they added, “in March 2011, when the spacecraft will settle into orbit for at least a year of continuous, close-up observations.”

In listing the APL-built and -operated MESSENGER spacecraft as number 11 of its best 50 inventions of 2009, Time magazine’s editors wrote in the Nov. 23 issue, “The probe will survey parts of the world never before seen — and will do so in comfort. Covered in an insulating ceramic skin, it will endure temperatures of 700°F (370°C) on its exterior; inside, it will operate at a room-temperature 70°F (20°C).”

“It’s great to see general press recognition for the remarkable accomplishments of MESSENGER,” says Dave Kusnierkiewicz, chief engineer in the APL Space Department. “Too few people outside of the space industry appreciate the difficulty of conducting a Mercury orbital mission. The engineers who designed the spacecraft and instruments worked very hard to meet all the mission requirements within the constraints of cost, launch mass limitations and the harsh thermal environment. The operations team that has conducted three successful Mercury flybys and is easing the spacecraft into its eventual orbital mission has also managed to make a very difficult task look easy.”

APL’s Ralph McNutt, MESSENGER’s project scientist, says MESSENGER is an example of the best of what U.S. science and engineering can accomplish, “a focused team taking on a formidable technical problem and pushing innovative solutions forward toward an ongoing, successful implementation. In more ways than one, MESSENGER is ‘the little spacecraft that could,’ with even more to come as we head toward orbit.”

For information on the MESSENGER mission, visit

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MESSENGER at Mercury

MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) is a NASA-sponsored scientific investigation of the planet Mercury and the first space mission designed to orbit the planet closest to the Sun. The MESSENGER spacecraft launched on August 3, 2004, and after flybys of Earth, Venus, and Mercury will start a yearlong study of its target planet in March 2011. Dr. Sean C. Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution, leads the mission as Principal Investigator. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory built and operates the MESSENGER spacecraft and manages this Discovery-class mission for NASA.