Image Source: NASA
In August 2004 NASA launched its robotic spacecraft, MESSENGER which in 2011, became the first probe to ever orbit the planet Mercury which is the closest planet to the sun. After an 11 year mission the spacecraft finally ran out of fuel and died, crashing into the planet at 3.26pm ET. When NASA's Deep Space Network could no longer detect any signal from MESSENGER, NASA mission control finally confirmed end of operations.
The official MESSENGER mission Twitter page, @MESSENGER2011, Tweeted about 2 hours ago with the message: "Well I guess it is time to say goodbye to all my friends, family, support team. I will be making my final impact very soon." followed by: "#thatsmessenger" and the image that you see on this page.
During its time orbiting Mercury, MESSENGER has sent over 270,000 images of the planet and returned them back to earth and completed its primary objectives in 2012. Over the 11 year mission, MESSENGER determined the composition of Mercury's surface, discovered it had an offset internal magnetic field and that its polar deposits are mainly water ice, amongst other things.
Sean Solomon, MESSENGER's primary investigator said: “A resourceful and committed team of engineers, mission operators, scientists, and managers can be extremely proud that the MESSENGER mission has surpassed all expectations and delivered a stunningly long list of discoveries that have changed our views--not only of one of Earth’s sibling planets, but of the entire inner solar system.”
No doubt it will be a sad day for mission control, but they can be proud of the accomplishments.