Mercury Messenger NASA

In 1998, a study detailed a proposed mission to send an orbiting spacecraft to Mercury, as the planet was at that point the least-explored of the inner planets. In the years following the Mariner 10 mission, subsequent mission proposals to revisit Mercury had appeared too costly, requiring large quantities of propellant and a heavy lift launch vehicle. Moreover, inserting a spacecraft into orbit around Mercury is difficult, because a probe approaching on a direct path from Earth would be accelerated by the Sun’s gravity and pass Mercury far too quickly to orbit it. However, using a trajectory designed by Chen-wan Yen in 1985, the study showed it was possible to seek a Discovery-class mission by using multiple, consecutive gravity assist, ‘swingby’ maneuvers around Venus and Mercury, in combination with minor propulsive trajectory corrections, to gradually slow the spacecraft and thereby minimize propellant needs.

Discovering the little moon also reinforces the theory that most dwarf planets have moons. HST's detection of a site, which appears to show persistent, intermittent plume activity on Europa, provides a promising target for the Europa mission to investigate. Equipped with its new and sophisticated suite of science instruments, the mission can detect whatever may potentially be swimming around in the hidden global ocean sloshing around beneath its secretive crust of ice. The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative endeavor by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, manages the mission for NASA.