The Messenger team is thrilled: after five years, their probe has achieved Mercury orbit. The spacecraft now settles in for a year of ceramic-shielded study of the solar system’s innermost planet.
For the record, the years and first human-made orbiters of the various celestial bodies:
- Earth, 1957, Sputnik 1
- Sun, 1959, Luna 1
- Moon, 1966, Luna 10
- Mars, 1971, Mariner 9
- Venus, 1975, Venera 9
- Jupiter, 1995, Galileo
- Eros 433 (asteroid), 2000, NEAR-Shoemaker
- Saturn, 2004, Cassini
- Mercury, 2011, Messenger
This decade we will see the Dawn probe orbit asteroids Vesta and Ceres. Rosetta will orbit a comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014, if all goes according to plan. I don’t think anything else is on the horizon as far as a “first” orbiter goes. It would be nice to see orbiters at Uranus and Neptune.
Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington