In several recent posts (here and here), I’ve said that nobody wants to live on Mercury. It’s too hot. It’s also too cold, and there’s no air, et cetera, et cetera. But apparently some people do want to colonize Mercury. If you’re one of them, your first obstacle is getting there.
Only two spacecraft have ever visited the First Rock from the Sun, and the process of getting there was not exactly straightforward. (Get it! No? You will in a minute.) The problem is the Sun.
The Sun is massive, and so is its gravity. By comparison, Mercury’s gravity is minuscule, so trying to achieve Mercurial orbit requires guts, pinpoint accuracy, and a little unconventional thinking.
The MESSENGER spacecraft did it by taking an indirect course through the inner Solar System. It looped past Earth once, Venus twice, and Mercury three times before settling into a safe planetary orbit.
This long, spiraling voyage took six years. A trip to Pluto would take just as long even though Pluto is five times farther away.
Barring some ginormous advances in anti-gravity technology, any effort to colonize Mercury would most likely have to follow MESSENGER’s convoluted path to get there.
Of course, living on Mercury presents a whole other set of challenges. More on that in Wednesday’s post.
How Long Does It Take to Get to Mercury? from Universe Today.
NASA Probe Becomes First Spacecraft to Orbit Mercury from Space.com.
Mercury Orbit Insertion Press Kit from NASA.