In our previous series of newsletters, we have covered the space probes which went to explore the powerhouse of our solar system: the Sun. Today we will move one step close, and discuss about the probes which explored Mercury planet, starting with Mariner 10 space probe. Today we will have just an overview about the probe understanding its ‘firsts milestones’ and its major objectives.
The Firsts about Mariner 10:
- First spacecraft sent to study Mercury
- First spacecraft to use the gravity of one planet (in this case, Venus) to reach another
- First spacecraft to return data on a long-period comet
- First mission to explore two planets (Mercury and Venus) during a single mission
- First spacecraft to use a gravity assist to change its flight path
- The first spacecraft to return to its target after an initial encounter
- First probe to use the solar wind as a major means of spacecraft orientation during flight
The mission objectives were to measure Mercury’s environment, atmosphere, surface, and body characteristics and to make similar investigations of Venus. Secondary objectives were to perform experiments in the interplanetary medium and to obtain experience with a dual-planet gravity assist mission.
Astronomers were curious about Mercury’s high density, and what lay inside the planet’s core. The running hypothesis, according to NASA, was that the planet’s density was due to a high concentration of metals. But there were questions about the exact composition of the core, and how that core was put together during the early days of Mercury’s formation. Mariner 10 provided many answers to these questions which we will get to know in-depth in our upcoming articles. Till then take care!