A Planet on Steroids: Mission Juno

“Everything about Jupiter is extreme; it’s a planet on steroids” — Scott Bolton, Principal Investigator, Mission Juno

This illustration depicts NASA's Juno spacecraft at Jupiter, with its solar arrays and main antenna pointed toward the distant sun and Earth. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This illustration depicts NASA’s Juno spacecraft at Jupiter, with its solar arrays and main antenna pointed toward the distant sun and Earth. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

July 4th is a day of celebration, and not just for Independence Day!  It is also the day that the spacecraft Juno will finally reach its destination Jupiter after a 5-year voyage.  Juno should reach the planet’s orbit by tonight (July 4) and will then spend 18 months studying what lies beneath Jupiter’s thick cloud cover.

From NASA:

“During Juno’s orbit-insertion phase, or JOI, the spacecraft will perform a series of steps in preparation for a main engine burn that will guide it into orbit. At 6:16 p.m. PDT (9:16 p.m. EDT), Juno will begin to turn slowly away from the sun and toward its orbit-insertion attitude. Then 72 minutes later, it will make a faster turn into the orbit-insertion attitude.

After the main engine burn, Juno will be in orbit around Jupiter. The spacecraft will spin down from 5 to 2 RPM, turn back toward the sun, and ultimately transmit telemetry via its high-gain antenna.

Juno starts its tour of Jupiter in a 53.5-day orbit. The spacecraft saves fuel by executing a burn that places it in a capture orbit with a 53.5-day orbit instead of going directly for the 14-day orbit that will occur during the mission’s primary science collection period. The 14-day science orbit phase will begin after the final burn of the mission for Juno’s main engine on October 19.”

I had the great honor of filming some early interviews with Juno’s scientists and engineers leading up to the launch for the official Mission Juno website.  In honor of this momentous occasion, I’m reposting a piece about the project.

To Jupiter and Beyond

 (originally posted July, 31, 2013)

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.


  • 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 was two years into its five-year, 2.8 billion kilometer journey.  Juno was launched in August 2011, and arrives at Jupiter in July 2016.
  • The Earth Fly By was 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.

  1. Ricky OKane said:

    Thrilling! I’ve been following its progress.

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. It was great to watch on NASA TV. They made it look so easy, but it was far from it.

  3. The Chaos Realm said:

    Whew, Florida in August…that is some dedication…! (<–born and raised in Florida)

    • busyk said:

      No doubt, it was ridiculously hot but totally worth it.

  4. Betty said:

    Loved this!!! Thanks so much. Great Job.

  5. Dean said:

    Wonderful coverage on the Juno mission. Thank you for this!

  6. Well this was just a really enjoyable post, there is something magnificent about a rocket launch. I couldn’t agree more about why we need to invest in space programs. We seem so small minded these days. Grand things are being done by scientists and new discoveries about the universe are being made and here I am fascinated by popular culture. I mean I think I’m drawn to the arts more than science which is fair enough but when I was kid at one point I wanted to be an astronaut. We need to be able to get kids excited about the wonder of space again. Maybe your work and Juno will do that. Nice photo of you with the rocket too K.

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