It was a windy night when I took this picture. I jiggled the camera twice, once at the beginning of the shot, and once towards the end. I like the effect of the airplane flying across the frame, though.
I want to write about the Galileo mission to Jupiter and it’s moons.
The Galileo probe was launched on October 18, 1989. It reached Jupiter’s orbit December 7, 1995. To me, Galileo is a mission filled with what ifs. It was a very successful mission, giving us new insights into the Jovian system, but the mission could have been so much more ambitious… a grand slam instead of a home run. The difference has a lot to do with the Challenger accident in 1984. The consequences of the accident didn’t just affect the astronauts, families and the public. It also had a great impact on the science being conducted by NASA.
One of the things that NASA reviewed after the Challenger disaster was the practice of launching nuclear material on board shuttles. Probes like Galileo use nuclear fuel to provide electricity for systems used during their missions. The public was concerned about nuclear releases due to launch pad accidents. Here is an overview of NASA’s study.
Galileo was put into storage after Challenger. Between the moratorium on shuttle launches and the nuclear payload reviews, Galileo sat idle for several years. Here’s the cosmic near miss. Comet Shoemaker Levy 9 hit Jupiter in 1994. Galileo was still a year away from Jupiter at the time. Had Galileo launched a little earlier, it would have been in orbit of Jupiter when the comet hit. Galileo did collect some great data about the impacts, but imagine what we could have learned if Galileo was in orbit at the time. The spacecraft could have passed through the tail of one of the fragments or any number of cool experiments.
Galileo also suffered from a broken main antenna. This antenna was the high speed link back to Earth. Without it, Galileo had to rely on its low gain antenna. As a result, Galileo was able to send back 14,000 images, or 30 Gigabytes of data. there are lost scientific opportunities in the other images that were never sent back to Earth because of the speed restrictions. We won’t know what they are until we send another probe back to Jupiter.