06-25-2017  5:10 am      •     
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NEWS BRIEFS

Cooling Centers to open in Multnomah County Saturday, Sunday

Temperatures expected to climb into the upper 90s this weekend ...

Multnomah County Leaders Release Statement on Safety at Summer Events

Officials advise public to check in, have a plan and be aware at public events ...

Portland Musician, Educator Thara Memory Dies

Grammy-winning Trumpeter, composer, teacher died Saturday at the age of 68 ...

St. Johns Center for Opportunity to Host Meet the Employer Event June 27

Employers represented will include Mary’s Harvest and Del Monte ...

New Self-Defense Organization Offers Training to Youth in Multnomah County

EMERJ-SafeNow offers July classes for children ages 8-10 and youth ages 15-19 ...

U.S. & WORLD NEWS

OPINION

Our Children Deserve High Quality Teachers

It’s critical that parents engage with educational leaders and demand equal access to high quality teachers ...

Civil Rights Groups Ask for Broad Access to Affordable Lending

Charlene Crowell writes that today’s public policy housing debate is also an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past and...

Criminal Justice Disparities Present Barriers to Re-entry

Congressional Black Caucus Member Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) writes about the fight to reduce disparities in our criminal justice...

Bill Maher Betrayed Black Intellectuals

Armstrong Williams talks about the use of the n-word and the recent Bill Maher controversy ...

AFRICAN AMERICANS IN THE NEWS

ENTERTAINMENT

Fly-by view of Mercury, courtesy of NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

 

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A desk-sized NASA spacecraft is riding the brakes all the way to Mercury, about to pull a tricky maneuver Thursday night to become the first man-made object to orbit the tiny planet.

After a trip of 4.9 billion miles and nearly six-and-a-half years, the Messenger spacecraft will try to careen into an egg-shaped orbit and fight off the gigantic gravitational pull of the sun. To do so, it will have to use more than half of the fuel it was launched with in 2004 to reduce speed dramatically in just fifteen minutes.

If all works well, Messenger will circle as close as 120 miles from the surface and survey the entire planet for a year, beginning April 4. It will learn about Mercury's mysterious magnetic field and - most tantalizing of all - discover if the closest-planet-to-the-sun has ice in its permanently dark frigid craters near its poles.

If all doesn't go well, it is more likely that the $446 million spacecraft flies away from Mercury and ends up circling the sun. NASA should know whether they succeed in about an hour.

Making it difficult has been the sun's gravity and its incredible heat, forcing the probe to have large sunshades, said mission systems engineer Eric Finnegan. Messenger has had to take the long way around to get into Mercury's orbit because it has to continuously slow down and burn energy to get to the right place. While other spaceships have whipped around planets like a slingshot to speed up, Messenger has had to do just the opposite, going around Earth, Venus and Mercury to slow down.

"You're playing this incredible game of cosmic billiard balls to make this all work out," said Johns Hopkins University astronomer Ralph McNutt, who is a mission scientist.

If something goes wrong, engineers have fallback plans they can use in the next three days to three months to try to get the spacecraft back in some kind of orbit around Mercury.

NASA is shuttering the cameras on the spacecraft during the maneuver so there will be no pictures of the arrival, said mission chief scientist Sean Solomon.

Messenger has flown by Mercury a few times in its torturous trip there and Mariner 10 flew by there 36 years ago.

"Mercury has been called the forgotten planet because it's been so long since we sent a spacecraft there," Solomon said.

But that is about to change.

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