Hopkins engineers put craft on a course for Venus flyby

NATION DIGEST

Nation Digest

December 13, 2005|By FRANK ROYLANCE

Johns Hopkins University engineers stomped on the accelerator early yesterday and sent NASA's Messenger spacecraft on a course for a flyby of Venus in October.

The 8.7-minute burn of the Maryland-built spacecraft's largest thruster added 706 mph to its speed. It also provided a successful first test of the main engine, the longest until it is needed to slow the probe into orbit around Mercury in March 2011.

Built and operated by Hopkins' Applied Physics Laboratory at a cost of $426 million, Messenger was launched in August 2004. It would be NASA's first mission to Mercury in more than 30 years.

The Venus flyby - the first of two - will use the planet's gravity to pull the spacecraft closer to its final rendezvous with Mercury. Scientists plan to turn their instruments on Venus to learn more the planet.

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