If the solar system has a flame-roasted planet, it's Mercury, where the sun pushes surface temperatures to 800°F (426°C). That brutal environment is one reason no NASA probe has visited Mercury since 1975. But Messenger the space agency's new Mercury ship can take the heat. Having just completed a flyby a mere 141 miles (228 km) above the planet's surface, it's preparing to enter Mercury's orbit in 2011. The probe will survey parts of the world never before seen and will do so in comfort. Covered in an insulating ceramic skin, it will endure temperatures of 700°F (370°C) on its exterior; inside, it will operate at a room-temperature 70°F (20°C).
The 50 Best Inventions of 2009
From a rocket of the future to a $10 million lightbulb, here are TIME's picks for the best new gadgets and breakthrough ideas of the year