SPECIAL POST: The Flight of MESSENGER to Mercury: Live Web 2.0 Coverage of the Final Flyby on September 29, 2009

 Posted by DrJeff on September 18th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog


NEWS: For continued coverage of the MESSENGER mission through orbital insertion on March 18, 2011, please visit the MESSENGER Updates page on this blog.



Quick Navigation for this BotU Special Post

Click on Main Page to Ensure You’re at Special Post, not Blog Home Page


1. Schedule for MESSENGER Flyby Events and Web 2.0 Live Coverage

2. Ideas for Lessons in the Classroom, and Educational Resources

for leveraging the live events into a broader science education experience

3. The Mission Scientists, the Voices of Mission Control, and their Links

4. How to Participate—It’s Easy even if you have Twitter & Facebook blocked

5. Witness History: See Mercury Before Sunrise! Sept 29-Oct 1, 2009


Photo caption: Part of Mercury’s never before seen surface, from MESSENGER spacecraft data obtained during the first flyby on January 14, 2008. Read the story behind this imageYou want to see spectacular? Click on the image.

Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/Arizona State University, 2008.


Every so often an upcoming event is compelling enough for me to put up a dedicated Special Post at Blog on the Universe. A good example is the Apollo 11 40th anniversary. Given my involvement for the last 10 years with the MESSENGER mission, I decided the upcoming encounter deserved a Special Post. The goal is to help facilitate public engagement with the event, and point followers of this Blog to the official web sites and relevant resources. I have also provided my own thoughts on MESSENGER. This post is a Teachable Moment in the News.



It is a historic mission to another world. It marks a dramatic end to the human race’s initial reconnaissance of the eight planets of our Solar System, and the beginning of detailed study of Mercury.


On September 29, 2009, at 5:55 pm EDT, the MESSENGER spacecraft will conduct the last of three flybys of the planet. Each flyby is gravitationally modifying the spacecraft’s orbit around the Sun to ready it for orbital insertion around Mercury on March 18, 2011. On September 29 through October 1, live Web 2.0 coverage from mission control at the Applied Physics Laboratory in Columbia, Maryland, will allow teachers, their students, and the public to experience this mission milestone, and through social networks … ACTIVELY PARTICIPATE in this great adventure. There will be 7 Voices of Mission Control—MESSENGER Educator Fellows and MESSENGER Education Team members—covering the flyby in real time on Twitter and Facebook. They will be able to interact with all of you through engaging conversations, and will answer your questions. Four MESSENGER Mission Scientists will be teaming with the Voices of Mission Control throughout the live coverage. Our goal is to capture the experiences and excitement of the events as they unfold, and to tell this very human story of exploration. We want to help inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers, and promote scientists and engineers as heroes and role models to our children. We want to help teachers engage their students with a behind-the-scenes look at REAL science and engineering, and in this very moment of history.


Inspire … Then Educate: A Broader Commitment to Education

At this Special Post, I’ve also put together a sub-page that can serve as a one-stop-shop for information on MESSENGER and the science objectives for the flyby, and lists of activities, lessons, and educational resources. It’s meant to help you place the live coverage within a broader, richer science education experience that grows from National Science Education Standards, and offers deep curricular connections in the earth and space sciences. The idea is to inspire …then educate. The historic event provides the inspiration, and the resources leverage discussions on the nature of exploration, the nature of the Solar System, and MESSENGER and its mission at Mercury. Isn’t this precisely the curricular landscape in which MESSENGER resides?


The Mission

On August 3, 2004, NASA launched the MESSENGER spacecraft to Mercury, only the second mission to the planet. Unlike its predecessor Mariner 10—which in 1974 and 1975 only flew by Mercury—MESSENGER will enter orbit in 2011 and begin a full year of observations. Mariner 10 only revealed half the planet to us. MESSENGER’s first flyby on January 14, 2008 revealed the side of the world we had never seen. MESSENGER is changing our view of Mercury—and how our Solar System was born.


There is a wealth of information on the scientific motivation for the mission, the mission design, the suite of instruments, the mission timeline, and a FAQ, at MESSENGER’s main Johns Hopkins University Site, and the NASA MESSENGER site.


The Team

MESSENGER is an emissary of the human race to an alien world. It is a NASA Discovery Mission headed by the Carnegie Institution of Washington (CIW) and managed by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). But MESSENGER was made possible by ordinary people just like you and me who were children once that dared to dream. It was taken from idea to reality by a remarkable, inter-organizational team headed by Sean Solomon, Director of CIW’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, and P.D. Bedini as Project Manager at APL. Sub-teams for engineering, mission operations, science, and the suite of instruments aboard the spacecraft, provide areas of concentration that make a space flight mission happen. There is also a dedicated team of organizations conducting education and public outreach (E/PO) activities in support of the mission—so that the human race can go along for the ride. The E/PO team is head by Julie Edmonds, Co-Director of the Carnegie Academy for Science Education (CASE).


NCESSE and the Fellows

The National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) is one of the MESSENGER E/PO team organizations. We oversee the MESSENGER Educator Fellowship Program where we recruit, train, and support a corps of 30 of the best science educators in the nation—the MESSENGER Fellows—which in turn trains 3,000 teachers a year on conceptually powerful grade K-12 compendia of lessons—the MESSENGER Education Modules—addressing Solar System science and engineering. As of September 18, 2009, 14,028 grade K-12 teachers have been trained at 609 workshops by the Fellows. It is a remarkable achievement.


I am Center Director for NCESSE, and also direct our E/PO efforts for MESSENGER. NCESSE’s Dr. Harri Vanhala superbly manages the Fellowship Program and NCESSE’s development of new grade 5-12 lessons for the MESSENGER Education Modules.


Live Web 2.0 Coverage September 29 through October 1, 2009

On September 29, starting at 5:00 pm, about an hour before the Mercury encounter, 7 MESSENGER Fellows and E/PO Team members, including myself, will be covering the flight live on Twitter and Facebook. Collectively this group will serve as Voices of Mission Control at the Applied Physics Lab. On September 30 and October 1 we will be working with 4 MESSENGER Mission Scientists, reporting to you live the preliminary results from the data streaming to Earth.


You are invited to be part of the adventure.


… and spread the word to teachers!


Links to Important Sub-pages of this Post

Schedule for M3 (MESSENGER Flyby #3) Events and Web 2.0 Live Coverage


Ideas for Lessons in the Classroom, and Educational Resources

for leveraging the live events into a broader science education experience

The Mission Scientists, the Voices of Mission Control, and the Social Networking Links


How to Participate—It’s Easy even if you have Twitter & Facebook blocked



visit Store Galactica, supporting programs of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education

7 Responses to “SPECIAL POST: The Flight of MESSENGER to Mercury: Live Web 2.0 Coverage of the Final Flyby on September 29, 2009”

  1. Benjamin Brooks Says:
    September 20th, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    Hi Jeff,

    One quick question, in the photo at top, is that “pale blue dot” us? …..(ahhh how I miss Mr Sagan)

    or is it some form of photographic effect/anomaly?


  2. DrJeff Says:
    September 21st, 2009 at 9:31 am

    Hi Ben,
    Yes that’s us, but superimposed at the correct location in space. Read my write-up on the “story behind this image.” The link is in the Photo Caption just beneath the photo. And DEFINITELY click on the photo to see it in large format. Pretty stunning.

  3. planetjohn Says:
    September 29th, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Cant wait, under 15 min left!

  4. planetjohn Says:
    September 29th, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    i wonder what the photos are going to look like?????

  5. Cortni Says:
    October 1st, 2009 at 12:14 am

    I’m a student at a middle school. I was wondering if Mercury were to possibly have life on it, what forms of life would be there?

  6. DrJeff Says:
    October 1st, 2009 at 10:53 am

    Hi Cortni! The temperature on Mercury is extreme, ranging from -300 degrees F to 840 degrees F. And it has no atmosphere. It cannot support life as we know it. And we have no clue about the nature or characteristics of life beyond what we know on Earth.

  7. Cortni Says:
    October 6th, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Thank you, but I have another question:
    Are you a really a professor ? Is Venus really the hottest planet? My friends keep telling me it’s Mercury, but I think i’m right. Could you please tell me which one is correct?