Galileo mission terminated due to safety concerns
October 3, 2003
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The Galileo spacecraft saw its last mission Tuesday, Sept. 21, as the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) sent signals to send it plunging into the dense atmosphere of Jupiter.
The 14-year, 1.5 billion dollar mission came to an end due to scientists’ concerns that Galileo would crash into Jupiter’s moon Europa and contaminate its watery surface.
The craft had recently become uncontrollable due to an antenna problem and other technical difficulties.
Over the years, up to 300 people worked on the project. Many of the scientists and their families gathered to watch the final moments of Galileo.
“Personally, I am a little sad,” said Rasaly Lopes-Gautier, a scientist who worked on the mission. “I had the time of my life on Galileo and I’m a little sad to say goodbye to an old friend,” she added, as reported by the Associated Press.
The 3,000-pound spacecraft collected data until the end. It had already withstood more than four times the amount of Jovian radiation than it was designed to, according to an official NASA press release.
Quoted on the NASA website, Torrance Johnson, a project scientist with the Galileo mission, was optimistic. “We haven’t lost a spacecraft, we’ve gained a steppingstone into the future of space exploration.”
Named after the Italian physicist and astronomer, Galileo originated as an idea in 1977 but did not actually reach fruition until 1989. There were some complications with the project after the Challenger exploded in 1986, as scientists were still reeling from that disaster. Galileo was finally launched onboard the shuttle Atlantis after being put on hold for three years. The mission was extended three times as the information Galileo was collecting was found to be valuable and sometimes groundbreaking.
In July 1994, Galileo witnessed the spectacular collision of the comet Shoemaker-Levy into Jupiter. It was the first time two solar bodies were ever witnessed colliding.
The spacecraft was instrumental in the discovery of a possible saltwater ocean on Europa. Scientists concede that it may be a long shot, but the presence of water on the moon could indicate some sort of life form.
Galileo also detected the extreme nature of volcanic activity Jupiter’s moon Io. The volcanoes have been found to be 100 times more powerful than the ones on Earth.
Taking an estimated 14,000 pictures, the craft traveled 2,878,053,500 miles and orbited Jupiter 35 times.