Friday, March 18, 2011

Exploring the planet Mercury, closest to the sun

Yesterday, I watched part of the webcast soon after Messenger space probe successfully went into orbit around Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun.

On a per capita basis, space exploration is not that "energy intensive." Sure, it looks like the rocket used lots of energy when it lifted off that pad 7 years ago, but compared to millions of people making routine jet flights to Europe, it isn't much energy on a per capita basis. Even jet travel, on a fully loaded commercial flight, is more energy efficient than everyone driving the same distance in cars.

It took the spacecraft 7 years to get to Mercury swinging around Earth, Venus and Mercury for the slingshot effect on it's way to the right position for orbit.

Watching the webcast reminded me of seeing Apollo land on the moon. When billions of people marked that moment.

Today, hardly anyone knows the Messenger Mission is even happening. "Mercury?" "What's that?" "Isn't it that bad crap in those squiggly new fangled eco bulbs they want us all to use now?"

To follow Messenger, I had to go to the web and pull up a special site. Google quickly zeroed in on that site amid the billions of pages and blogs about everything from football to Aunt Jessie's cat that's out there. It's still almost like magic to me.

Back in 1975, when Mariner 10 did our first flyby of Mercury, I managed to find the first closeup look at that planet. It was buried behind the sports pages of our newspaper.

We're still learning and exploring.

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