To Jupiter and Beyond! NASA’s Juno Mission

The Juno spaceprobe in front of the planet Jupiter (Artist's Concept). NASA/JPL 2011

The Juno spaceprobe in front of the planet Jupiter (Artist’s Concept). NASA/JPL 2011

Exactly two years ago today, I was heading down to Cape Canaveral to direct a number of short films about the Juno project, NASA’s mission to Jupiter.   Juno is a spacecraft that will spend one year orbiting Jupiter, making scientific observations of the planet’s gravity, magnetic fields and composition.  I conducted interviews with the scientists and engineers who worked on the project, and we filmed the launch on Aug 5, 2011.

My primary goal was to talk to these extremely big brains of NASA and bring their knowledge of the complex science and technology to the general public.  As a layman myself, most of my questions were followed up with an earnest, “So what does that mean?”  and “Let’s pretend I don’t know anything.”

I had met some of the scientists before at earlier milestones in the project, but this was an especially significant time – for many of them, the culmination of seven years of work was about to blast into space.  Formerly unflappable engineers were giddy with excitement, and I could feel what many called “launch fever” on the eve of liftoff.

If the fever was contagious, then I caught the bug too, because I’m just going to come out and say it:  when I was 15, I went to Space Camp.  Yes, I’m the girl who wandered around the National Air and Space Museum in a constant state of awe and wept during the IMAX film “The Dream is Alive.”  When people ask how can we spend money on the space program when there are so many social ills in the world, I answer: how can we not?  Space exploration not only seeks to unlock mysteries of the universe, it drives innovation that we can apply to everyday technology on Earth.  Exploration also serves as inspiration – to add to the collection of human knowledge and to wonder what lies beyond…

The launch itself was thrilling – so much louder and brighter than you get from watching it on television.  The viewing area for Kennedy Space Center was across the water from the launch pad.  In the August heat of Florida, each delay was enhanced by the general excitement of the crowd and the high noon sun (and the sweat dripping down my back).  I could see the rocket liftoff well before I could hear it.  The sound began as a low rumble that grew into a giant wave that crashed over us and resonated in our bellies.  The launch was a success; after about 6 minutes, Juno had entered Earth’s orbit, and 30 minutes after that, it began its five-year journey to Jupiter.

The opportunity to be present for the launch and talk to the best and brightest minds at that very moment was an honor that I’ll not soon forget.  At the end of each interview, I asked each person when he or she was first inspired by this field of work.  Everyone I spoke to drifted inward to some old memory and began their stories with “when I was a little girl” or “when I was a boy,” and not surprisingly, more than one referenced Star Trek.

Below is a short film of the launch.   The principal investigator for the project (and all-around great guy), Scott Bolton of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, narrates.

QUICK FACTS:

  • Juno sat atop an Atlas V rocket, nearly 200 ft tall.

    Juno's interplanetary trajectory. NASA/JPL 2011

    Juno’s interplanetary trajectory. NASA/JPL 2011

  • As of August 5, 2013, Juno is two years into its five-year, 2.8 billion kilometer journey.  Juno was launched in August 2011, and will arrive at Jupiter in July 2016.
  • The Earth Fly By is October 9, 2013.
  • Juno will study Jupiter’s composition, gravity field, magnetic field and magnetosphere.
  • The goal of Juno is to improve our understanding of the solar system’s beginnings by revealing the origin and evolution of Jupiter.  Juno will let us take a giant step forward in our understanding of how giant planets form and the role these titans played in putting together the rest of the solar system.
  • Once Juno concludes its study after completing 33 orbits around Jupiter, it is programmed to crash into the planet in order to avoid any possibility of impacting its moons – this is the part that blows my mind because the implication is that we don’t want to influence or disturb the potentially fertile elements on the moons.
  • Some NASA technology that we use everyday include: memory foam, scratch resistant lenses, ear thermometers and shoe insoles. (source: 10 NASA Inventions You Might Use Everyday, Discovery.com)
Big Rocket.  Photo by Rick Kaplan, Kennedy Space Center 2011.

Big Rocket. Photo by Rick Kaplan, Kennedy Space Center 2011.

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4 comments
  1. Michael John Warren / Director said:

    NERDS UNITE!!! That launch footage is bonkers.

  2. Michael John Warren / Director said:

    Also, I’m glad you admitted your Space Camp past because if you didn’t, I was gonna call you out. #secretsrevealed

  3. Betty said:

    Good post enjoyed it very much.

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