Artist's rendering of MESSENGER in orbit around Mercury.
MESSENGER (Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging) launched August 3, 2004 was the first spacecraft to orbit the planet closest to the sun in our solar system. On March 18, 2011 it achieved orbit. It was planned to orbit Mercury for only a year but lasted over four. With seven scientific instruments on board, the craft sent back over 10TB of data, including almost 300,000 images and numerous map products.
In May 2016, NASA released a 3-D image of the first global topographic model of Mercury (see video below). The extent of the data received from MESSENGER will keep scientists busy for years to come.
First photo from orbit.
On April 30, 2015, MESSENGER yielded to Mercury’s gravity and crashed on the surface just north of the Shakespeare basin. It created a crater estimated to be 52 feet in diameter.
The last photo taken before impact.