NASA spacecraft now circling Mercury - a first
WASHINGTON (AP) - For the first time, NASA has put a spacecraft in orbit around the solar system's smallest planet, Mercury.
NASA says a spacecraft called Messenger successfully veered into orbit Thursday night after a 6 1/2-year trip and 4.9 billion miles.
The desk-sized spacecraft fired its engine for 15 minutes before entering an egg-shaped orbit. The mission required some tricky maneuvering to fend off the gravitational pull of the sun.
Messenger was launched in 2004. Next month it should start transmitting pictures from as close as 120 miles above the surface of Mercury, a strange planet of extremes.
Messenger will investigate Mercury's mysterious magnetic field and the possibility of ice in craters, even though it is the closest planet to the sun.
Online: Messenger spacecraft: http://bit.ly/eqUYR8
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