On July 4, 2016 NASA announced the successful arrival of the Juno Spacecraft into Jupiter’s orbit. The $1 billion mission will study the largest planet in our solar system for the next eighteen months and give scientists a better idea of the gas giant’s weather system, magnetic environment and answer questions about its formation.
Juno began its journey at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Aug. 5, 2011. After its initial acceleration it got a final speed boost of more than 8,800 mph (3.9 kilometers per second) by flying past Earth in October, 2013. Researchers haven’t wasted any time turning on the lights since it arrived in Jupiter’s orbit and have already powered up five of the nine science instruments on board. They plan to flip the switch on the remaining four before the end of the month, NASA officials said.
Juno is only the second space mission to enter Jupiter’s orbit. The first mission, Galileo, arrived in 1995 and spent a decade studying Jupiter and its moons. By contrast, Juno will focus solely on the planet and try to answer some of the biggest questions we still have:
- How much water does Jupiter have in its atmosphere? Knowing this will confirm, or force adjustments to current formation theories of the solar system.
- What is Jupiter’s atmosphere like?
- What are the magnetic and gravity fields of Jupiter? This will reveal more about the interior structure of Jupiter.
- How does the magnetic environment of Jupiter affect its atmosphere?
Juno is part of the New Frontiers program created by NASA in 2003 for medium-sized missions with budgets under $1 billion. Other missions, such as the Curiosity rover can easily cost many times that amount.
Some argue that with all the problems going on here at home on Earth, we should reconsider spending such huge sums of money on space exploration. While the costs are undeniably high, the benefits are also global, affecting every person on earth.
Advocates of space exploration have given 9 reasons that studying space is not only good for Earthings, but may be essential for very survival of humanity.
- Perspective – It is easy to view ourselves as the be-all-end-all of creation. But each time we have looked a little farther down the road, across the globe, or at our position in space, we are humbled by the immensity of the universe and our tiny place in it. Nowhere has this been expressed better than by Carl Sagan himself in this passage from the Pale Blue Dot.
- Protecting and Understanding our World – NASA’s Earth Science division studies the fantastically complex world that we live on. By studying other worlds similar to ours, like Venus and Mars, we see how special our planet is and understand the need to protect it from ending up with a similar fate.
There are also NASA-funded projects to scan the skies for dangerous asteroids missions, which land on and study these celestial bodies show how we might divert them from a collision course in the future if needed.
- Inspiration – The Apollo missions inspired millions to pursue math and science careers. As society becomes more dependent on technology, having a tech-literate society is no longer a luxury. Few programs inspire young people to pursue the maths and sciences than real-life space explorers.
- The Economy – The goal of space exploration may be light-years away, but all of the money spent exploring space is paid out on Earth, supporting employees and their families all around the globe.
- Exploration – To be human is to be an explorer. It is in our blood. Since the first tribes wandered off the African savanna, people have crept into every hole, climbed every mountain and paddled every river. The two places left to go are down into the oceans and up into space. Star Trek had it right: Space is the final frontier, and it calls to the explorer in all of us.
- New Technology – Space is a challenging place to visit and it requires the planets best and brightest to solve the very unique problems that exist there. The results are often spectacular and can be applied to solving problems right here on Earth. So, whether it is healthier baby food, technology to better diagnose breast cancer, or simply golf balls that fly farther, space technology is everywhere!
- Answering The Big Questions – Some questions have been asked since we first learned to speak. How did life begin? How did the universe begin? How was our world created? Are we alone? Now, we are beginning to find real answers to these ancient questions. The fact that we can even ask them is mind-blowing. Having the technology to answer them – humbling. In the words of Carl Sagan, “We are starstuff contemplating the stars.”
- International Collaboration – Any large-scale mission requires international cooperation. Having a project that involves all the world to complete a task that is out-of-this-world fosters a world view that includes everyone. From the perspective of space, we are all in the same boat. There are no borders, no divisions from space. Only humans working together.
- Long-term Survival – At this moment, every human being alive is living in one place – Earth. If something should happen to it, whether man-made or external, we are extinct. There are dozens of Hollywood films that outline these global disaster scenarios such as a rogue comet, nuclear war, virus outbreak or drastic climate change. However far-fetched they may be, it is possible that our home may become uninhabitable one day.
Space exploration and colonization of the Moon and Mars are the only insurance policy for humanity and all of our achievements.