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Johns Hopkins Plays Role In 1st Spacecraft In Mercury’s Orbit

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LAUREL, Md. (WJZ)— It’s a first for the American space program, and Johns Hopkins University is playing a critical role. Together with NASA, its Applied Physics Lab attempted to put the first spacecraft into Mercury’s orbit.

Kai Jackson was at the lab for the moment of truth.

It’s a homerun for the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel. Scientists cheered as the Messenger spacecraft entered the orbit of Mercury.

“Messenger’s mission is to map and measure everything that you can possibly think of to measure about the planet Mercury,” said Brian Anderson, physicist.

NASA launched Messenger in 2004. Seven years and 60 million miles later, Hopkins APL scientists who run and command the craft believe Messenger is in a prime position to yield valuable intel.

“How it helps us on our planet is informing our fundamental understanding of geophysics, fundamental understanding of solar system evolution,” Anderson said.

 “Science, technology, mathematics and space exploration are just paramount,” said Carol Powell, Columbia.

Our planet Earth is known as the third rock from the sun. But if you take a look at Mercury, it’s the closest and therefore the hottest planet next to the sun.  That presented some challenges for scientists and engineers who designed the Messenger spacecraft.

“A ceramic cloth sunshade that is always between the sun and spacecraft electronics,” Anderson said.

The Messenger project costs in excess of $400 million.

Messenger has completed more than a dozen laps through the inner solar system over the past seven years.

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