Spacecraft survives radiation-bathed close encounter with Jupiter’s moon
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) – NASA’s Galileo spacecraft passed closer to Jupiter’s fiery moon Io than ever before Tuesday and survived the radiation bombardment without the computer shutdowns that disrupted earlier encounters.
The $1.4 billion craft, which has spent more than a decade in space, flew to within 124 miles of the surface of the volcanically active moon. The pass was 62 miles lower than a November flyby that was only partly successful because Galileo was walloped with so much radiation that its computer reset.
Flight data transmitted from the spacecraft more than 500 million miles to Earth showed no indication that Galileo was harmed this time.
”We don’t see any issues, and everything seems to have been done fine,” said Jim Erickson, Galileo’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Scientific data will be transmitted from Galileo over the next several weeks. Scientists will look at the data to see how Io has changed since flybys in October and November.
Galileo was launched in 1989 and completed its primary exploration of the Jupiter system in 1997. It is now on its second extended mission, but maneuvering fuel is running low, navigation equipment is failing and the probe has absorbed double the radiation it was designed to withstand.
The most dangerous encounters were saved for last to squeeze the most science out of the spacecraft.
Galileo flew to within 380 miles of Io in October, revealing more than 100 volcanoes, some of which spewed 2,700-degree lava and vented gases miles into space. But just 19 hours before that flyby a computer error shut down the instruments.
Galileo flew within 186 miles of Io in November, capturing images of a mile-high lava fountain despite the radiation-induced computer shutdown.