Messenger, NASA’s Mercury-orbiting spacecraft, ends 11-year mission with impact

On April 30, 2015, at 3:26 p.m. (ET), NASA’s Messenger spacecraft slammed into Mercury after orbiting the planet closest to the Sun. Launched into space in August 2004, the craft became the first satellite to circle Mercury, when it arrived at the planet’s orbit in 2011; the spacecraft required several fly-bys around Earth, Venus, and Mercury before it could enter Mercury’s orbit on slow speed. It reached the end of its mission as it ran out of fuel.

During its orbit, Messenger (stylized as MESSENGER, since it’s an acronym for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) sent back images and data that are instrumental to learning about what’s beyond our atmosphere. Some of the images are astounding, giving scientists new views on the planet. Besides mapping the planet, Messenger studied Mercury’s geological and chemical makeup; scientists even found water, which was unexpected.

Even before its impact, Mercury was working hard. It continued to tweet messages, including this final bittersweet farewell (although there was most likely people back on Earth doing that).

A timeline of the Mercury spacecraft can be found on NASA’s website, as well as an image gallery of the spacecraft and photos Messenger took. We’ve pulled together a handful of those images sent back to NASA over the years.

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