The Galileo space probe will crash into Jupiter in less than three weeks. I knew that a suicide dive had been planned all along, but I didn’t realize it was coming up so soon.
Galileo entered orbit around the giant planet in 1995, and has been a stellar success despite a number of problems. The original two-year mission was extended several times, but
Now, the onboard supply of propellant is nearly depleted. Without propellant, the spacecraft would not be able to point its antenna toward Earth nor adjust its trajectory, so controlling the spacecraft would no longer be possible. Before that could happen, the flight team last year put Galileo on course for disposal by a dive into the crushing pressure of Jupiter’s atmosphere. This strategy eliminates any possibility of an unwanted impact between the spacecraft and the moon Europa. Galileo’s own discovery of a likely subsurface ocean on Europa has raised interest in the possibility of life there and concern about protecting it.
Well done. And as I’ve mentioned before, most of NASA’s great successes since the moon landing have been the unmanned exploration of our solar system. Here’s a New Yorker piece on the mission.