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08-Jun-01 | NASA approves MESSENGER

Another NASA go-ahead for full-scale development has been announced, this time for MESSENGER, a $256 million mission that will be the first to orbit the planet Mercury. Mariner 10, the only other spacecraft to study Mercury, made three fly-bys in 1974-75. MESSENGER, which will spend one Earth year in orbit to compile a complete global map of the Sun’s closest neighbour, is scheduled to launch in March 2004 aboard a three-stage Delta II using the higher-powered GEM-46 booster motors of Delta III. (NASA Press Release, 07-Jun-01, refers to this as the seventh NASA Discovery mission, a distinction arguably held by Deep Impact.* Ultimately this discrepancy will be resolved by which program suffers fewer delays and launches first.)

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