Mariner 10 was the first space probe to visit Mercury. It was also
the first probe to visit two planets - Venus and Mercury. Mariner 10
used the gravitational pull of Venus to swing it into a different orbit so it
could continue on to Mercury. Between 1974 and 1975, Mariner's flight
path took it past Mercury three times. The probe's primary mission was to
obtain close-up views of Mercury. Until Mariner 10, astronomers were
not sure what Mercury really looked like because it is so close to the Sun and
is usually lost in solar glare. The probe passed within 203 kilometers of
Mercury and took some 2,800 photographs. Most of Mercury's surface was
revealed in full detail by Mariner's visit.
On August 3, 2004, NASA launched the MESSENGER mission to Mercury. It will flyby Earth, Venus, and Mercury itself several times before settliing into orbit around our innermost planet in March 2011. The MESSENGER probe will provide the first new up-close data about Mercury in 30 years!
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