NASA’s Messenger ends 4-year tour of Mercury with planned crash landing – Washington Post

The only spacecraft to orbit Mercury ended its four-year tour with a crash landing Thursday.

NASA’s Messenger plunged from orbit as planned and slammed into the sun’s closest planet at about 8,750 mph, creating a crater an estimated 52 feet across.

Messenger became the first spacecraft to orbit hot, little Mercury, in 2011. It circled the solar system’s innermost planet 4,105 times and collected more than 277,000 images.

Until Messenger, the only spacecraft to visit Mercury was NASA’s Mariner 10 back in the 1970s. That was only a fly-by mission.

Lead scientist Sean Solomon, director of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said that Messenger set a record for planetary fly-bys — once past Earth, twice past Venus and three times past Mercury before entering Mercury’s orbit — and survived “both punishing heat and extreme doses of radiation” to surpass expectations.

Flight controllers managed to keep the spacecraft going a few extra weeks by using helium gas not originally intended as fuel. But the gas tank finally emptied, and gravity’s relentless tug did Messenger in.

— Associated Press

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) on Thursday outlined a sweeping overhaul of Detroit’s troubled state-run school district, proposing to divide its operations to address the “crushing” debt he said is hurting education in a city just months removed from bankruptcy.

The plan, which needs approval from bailout-fatigued lawmakers and prompted Detroit teachers to skip school on the day it was being unveiled, would create the new City of Detroit Education District to handle the academic operations of all public schools under what initially would be a board appointed by the governor and mayor.

Detroit Public Schools would remain intact for tax-collection purposes, tasked with paying off $483 million in debt over about seven years.

Because existing local school taxes would go toward the debt, Snyder will ask the Republican-controlled Legislature to direct $72 million more a year to the new district’s operations during those seven years— a tough sell less than a year after legislators committed $195 million to help end Detroit’s bankruptcy.

An education manager would determine whether low-performing schools should be closed, all traditional and charter schools would be put under an umbrella group, and a centralized enrollment system would be established so parents could enroll their children in a wider variety of schools.

— Associated Press

The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday that it will limit the duties of reserve deputies, including no longer allowing them to patrol alone after a white volunteer deputy was charged with manslaughter in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black suspect.

The office has faced questions about whether these deputies have been properly trained since the April 2 incident in which a reserve deputy, Robert Bates, killed Eric Harris, saying he meant to draw a stun gun but instead used a handgun.

Bates, a 73-year-old insurance agent, has pleaded not guilty in Harris’s death.

— Reuters

U.S. settles radiation dispute with New Mexico: The U.S. Energy Department has agreed to fund more than $73 million in infrastructure projects across New Mexico to settle a dispute stemming from a radiation leak at the federal government’s troubled nuclear-waste dump there. The agreement, announced Thursday after months of negotiations., is the largest settlement in DOE’s history.

Ariz. law blocks plastic-bag bans: Efforts by a few cities in Arizona to ban plastic bags are in limbo after lawmakers voted to make the bans illegal, angering municipalities over what they see as heavy-handed action by a conservative state against local governments. The state bill, which was approved in early May and takes effect in July, outlaws bans of single-use plastic bags and applies similar restrictions on foam containers and other disposable products.

— From news services

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