Mariner 10 was the first spacecraft to visit Planet Mercury. It was explored in three flybys by the Mariner 10 spacecraft in 1974 and 1975. It was launched by an Atlas-Centaur rocket in 3 November 1973.
Mariner 10 became the first and only spacecraft to reach Mercury in the twentieth century. The remotely controlled spacecraft flew to within 460 miles (740 kilometres) of Mercury on 29 March, 1974. It swept past the planet again on 24 September, 1974 and on 16 March, 1975. During those flights, the spacecraft photographed portions of the surface of Mercury. It also detected Mercury’s magnetic field.
Mariner 10 became the first spacecraft to study two planets. The probe photographed and made scientific measurements of Venus while travelling to Mercury. As the probe flew near Venus, the planet’s gravity pulled on the spacecraft, causing it to move faster. Thus, Mariner 10 reached Mercury in less time and by using less fuel than if it had flown directly from the Earth.
Mariner 10 was the seventh successful launch in the Mariner series and the first spacecraft to visit Mercury. It was also the first spacecraft to use the gravitational pull of one planet (Venus) to reach another (Mercury), and the first spacecraft mission to visit two planets.
The primary scientific objectives of the mission were to measure Mercury’s environment, atmosphere, surface, and body characteristics and to make similar investigations of Venus. Secondary objectives were to perform experiments in the interplanetary medium and to obtain experience with a dual-planet gravity-assist mission.
Did you know?
NASA has explored Mercury with the MESSENGER Spacecraft.
In the future, ESA is planning to explore Mercury with BepiColombo.
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