Rendezvous with a Rock

By Mike Deliman


MESSENGER spacecraft is approaching it's rendezvous with Mercury.  After flying for over 2400 days, in a little over 24 hours (from writing this)  MESSENGER will maneuver into orbit, the first time a satellite has orbited Mercury.  We hope to learn a lot about the composition of the surface and effects of solar weathering of the surface.  And there's the prospect of photographing the sun-side of the planet for the fist time!

In a few months, Dawn spacecraft will orbit Asteroid Vesta – the first time we've orbited an asteroid.  We hope to learn more about the composition of asteroids.   (We've landed on one, but technically it's harder to orbit than to land.  We've also successfully landed on a comet with Deep Imact…)  Dawn has not been in flight as long as MESSENGER, but it's orbital attempt is none the less impressive (Vesta is much smaller than Mercury).

Over the last ten years, we've redefined our undertstanding of how Mars evolved to it's present day, learned an incredible amount about the Sun, Moon, and Jovian planets, and even changed our definition of what "habitable" is – of where and how we should look for signs of life.  All of this helps change our understanding of how the solar system works, how planets work, and how we fit in the picture.

It fascinates and amazes me that we can design computers and robots capable of performing these incredible feats.  There's a software logo:  "where do you want to go today?"…let's consider:  Where do you want to go tomorrow, or in five to ten years?  I wonder what amazing things we will learn from the Sunlit side of Mercury.

Of course, by the way…VxWorks 5.3.1 for Rad6000 runs on both MESSENGER and Dawn.