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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLA. - On Launch Pad 17-B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the MESSENGER (Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging) spacecraft is seen atop the Delta II upper stage booster (middle) and the Delta II launch vehicle below. The spacecraft is ready for installation of the fairing, a molded structure that fits flush with the outside surface of the upper stage booster and forms an aerodynamically smooth joint, protecting the spacecraft during launch. Seen on the right is one of the solar panels on the spacecraft. On the left is the heat-resistant, ceramic-cloth sunshade that will protect the spacecraft’s instruments as MESSENGER orbits the Mercury where the surface reaches a high temperature near 840 degrees Fahrenheit and the solar intensity can be 11 times greater than on Earth. MESSENGER is scheduled to launch Aug. 2 and is expected to enter Mercury orbit in March 2011. MESSENGER was built for NASA by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.
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