NASA has announced that it will extend the MESSENGER mission for an additional year of orbital operations at Mercury beyond the planned end of the primary mission on March 17, 2012. The MESSENGER probe became the first spacecraft to orbit the innermost planet on March 18, 2011.
"We are still ironing out the funding details, but we are pleased to be able to support the continued exploration of Mercury," said NASA MESSENGER Program Scientist Ed Grayzeck, who made the announcement on November 9 at the 24th meeting of the MESSENGER Science Team in Annapolis, Md.
The spacecraft's unprecedented orbital science campaign is providing the first global close-up of Mercury and has revolutionized scientific perceptions of that planet. The extended mission will allow scientists to learn even more about the planet closest to the Sun, says MESSENGER Principal investigator Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.