NASA prepares a Mercury probe for orbit

NASA’s Messenger probe is about 10 days away from parking in an elliptical orbit around Mercury, the innermost planet of our solar system.

Messenger has been en route since 2004, making a crazy Spirograph-looking series of orbits around the sun, taking the craft past Venus, and past Mercury three times, and finally heading for orbit on March 18.

On Friday, a week before the orbit is scheduled to take place, my son is scheduled to give an oral report in his astronomy class.  He’s been reading books about Mercury that were written before 2000, claiming that only one probe ever visited Mercury. I knew that wasn’t right, so I called up NASA’s Messenger mission page and handed him the iPad.