NASA HISTORY: Galileo Spacecraft Completes 14-Year Mission By Falling Into Jupiter’s Atmosphere

By  //  September 21, 2016

ABOVE VIDEO: The launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis and mission STS-34 on October 18, 1989. The mission carried the Galileo spacecraft

(NASA) On September 21, 2003, the Galileo spacecraft completed its nearly 14 year mission by falling into Jupiter’s atmosphere at 106,000 mph (29.4 miles per second).

Launched by Space Shuttle Atlantis in 1989 (STS-34), the Galileo probe was the first spacecraft to orbit Jupiter. On the way to Jupiter Galileo flew by the Earth (twice) and Venus for a gravitational boost out to Jupiter.

Galileo’s large high gain antenna failed to deploy properly, but work-arounds allowed almost all of the planned data to be transmitted with the low-gain antenna.

On the way to the largest planet in our solar system, Galileo was the first craft to fly past an asteroid (Gaspra) and the first to discover a moon of an asteroid (Dactyl in orbit around asteroid Ida).

Approaching Jupiter Galileo released a small probe to penetrate the atmosphere, before swinging into orbit in December 1995.

Galileo was planned for a two year primary mission to study the Jupiter and its moons. Two mission extensions allowed Galileo to focus on the moons of Jupiter.

ABOVE VIDEO: On December 7, 1995, NASA’s Galileo spacecraft dropped a probe into Jupiter’s atmosphere. This probe uncovered temperatures, pressure and turbulence far in excess of what scientists had predicted. The probe was vaporized after only 95 miles and 58 minutes of descent into the Jovian atmosphere.

Close flybys of the moons produced evidence of subsurface saltwater on Europa, Ganymede and Callisto as well as intense volcanic activity on Io.

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Damage from the intense magnetic field around Jupiter eventually began to degrade Galileo’s systems.

To avoid the chance that Galileo might eventually impact one of the moons of Jupiter and contaminate it with Earth bacteria, the probe was de-orbited into the giant planet at high speed so that it would be incinerated.