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MESSENGER Webcast: Science and Technology
 
Program Introduction and Welcome

Narrator: NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft is about to embark on a historical voyage to mysterious, moonless Mercury, the least-explored planet in our Solar System. MESSENGER's mission is the first visit to the planet since Mariner's flyby nearly 30 years ago. We are about to discover more about the extreme nature of Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun.

Live from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA Direct! Presents "MESSENGER: Mission To Mercury."

Orlando Figueroa: Hello, and thank you for joining NASA Direct's coverage of the launch of MESSENGER. My name is Orlando Figueroa. I am the director of the NASA Solar System Exploration Division. The MESSENGER mission, short for MErcury Surface, Space Environment, GEochemistry and Ranging, was created to understand the forces that have shaped the least explored of the innermost of the terrestrial planets, Mercury.

Understanding Mercury and how it was formed and evolved is essential to the understanding of the other terrestrial planets and their unique history. Mercury has been visited by only one other spacecraft: Mariner 10, which flew by it nearly 30 years ago. We know from the Mariner 10 visit that Mercury is a planet broadly similar in bulk density to Earth, yet only slightly larger than our Moon.

Mercury's atmosphere is the thinnest of all the terrestrial planets. It has extreme variations in temperature and polar cold traps where ices may be preserved. Three Mercury flybys, along with several course-correction maneuvers, would position MESSENGER to start its original mapping in March 2011. While at Mercury, MESSENGER will collect images of the entire planet and gather highly-detailed information on Mercury's geological history, the nation of its atmosphere and magnetosphere, the makeup of its core, and the character of its polar materials.

MESSENGER is scheduled to stay in orbit at Mercury for one Earth year. It will finish its primary data collection mission in March 2012. What we learn from MESSENGER about Mercury will teach us a great deal about the nature and structure of the inner planets in our Solar System.

The detailed study of Mercury will allow for a new era of comparative planetology, providing a new context that links Mars, Earth, Venus and the Moon to this mysterious planet. I hope you enjoy today's webcast and will follow the MESSENGER mission as it reveals Mercury's secrets.