Home Science & Technology Where No One has Gone Before: Juno and Jupiter Rendezvous At Last

Where No One has Gone Before: Juno and Jupiter Rendezvous At Last

Photo by Stuart Rankin, Creative Commons Licensing.
Photo by Stuart Rankin, Creative Commons Licensing.

Space. The gas giant Jupiter and its attendant moons spin on into the eternal dark. A visitor arrives flung far from the third planet of the solar system. It’s spinning on three blades of solar panels like a detached propeller from an airplane, at speeds far faster than any prop could achieve back on that distant blue planet it came from (68,151 mph away).

Now it has fired its main engine in the direction of travel to slow the spacecraft to about 23,655 mph so the giant planet’s gravity will capture it gently to be its newest moon into a polar orbit.

This takes place during this nation’s 240th birthday on the fourth of July, 2016.

It was NASA’s and JPL’s way of saying, “Happy birthday, America!” in a very big way.

This was done on purpose to highlight Juno and its mission to study Jupiter itself. Unlike its predecessor, Galileo — whose aim was Jupiter’s many moons — Juno is going to focus on the great planet only. There are mysteries to solve regarding the king of planets and questions to ask. Juno is hoped to provide some answers about this gas giant.

The mission will last about one year, consisting of 32 highly elliptical polar orbits that will avoid most of Jupiter’s more lethal radiation zones. Radiation that would kill a human in minutes.

The 65-foot long spacecraft was launched August 5th, 2011 from Cape Kennedy, Florida. Making a crossing of well over 588 million miles of deep space to arrive observe Jupiter’s version of fireworks — auroras of fantastic scale for a space-filled fourth of July, 2016.

Its hardened instrument package was especially designed to resist and protect it from the intense radiation fields. One of the instruments was made to study the northern and southern lights that make ours look like a flicker of a candle in comparison (as a recent picture taken from the Hubble Space Telescope can attest).

It was amazingly clear from earth orbit. An aurora display bigger than three Earths put together. Now Jupiter is going to get its close up.

I’m pretty excited about space and space travel. In fact, I love a great deal of anything to do with science in general. Especially paleontology, anthropology, archeology and, yes, astronomy.

Ever since I was a small boy paging through old National Geographic magazines detailing the exploits of legends like John Glenn to dinosaurs being found in the Gobi desert.

When it comes to space travel, I have always desired to go in a spacecraft and explore space with my own eyes. But, like all of the rest of us, I have to settle for what these amazingly designed machines that are literally going “where no one has gone before,” to quote my favorite TV sci-fi show, Star Trek.(Okay, okay, it’s really from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but it’s still a Trek show.)

Man, as of today, has barely gone out of Earth’s orbit. Only 12 men have walked on the surface of the Moon. Where these probes have gone, we as a race must follow. To go to the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, manned spacecraft and landers have to be built. And not just in factories on Earth but in high orbit — in assembly plants placed there by NASA and private industries of space.

Something that should have taken place decades ago before NASA’s budget was slashed to next to nothing following the last Apollo missions to the Moon by Congress and men of little vision.

Thanks to private ventures like SpaceX, Vulcan Aerospace, Bigelow Aerospace, and others have coupled with NASA, JPL, ESA (to name a few), that vision may yet come to reality. The recent historic achievements of Blue Origin (Another private space company) and SpaceX self-landing booster rockets were major leaps forward. Those successful landings turned science fiction into science fact.

There is a lot to more to come and I can’t wait to see it all unfold.

That’s the rub, so to speak.

It’s taking entirely too long. We put a man on the moon in just ten years. Doing everything up from scratch; nobody ever did this before. Yet NASA did it with the Soviets breathing down their collective necks during the great space race. This is not the NASA of old. This one plods along at a glacial pace. Even with the help of these young private start ups the going is very slow. The entire space program needs a swift kick in the keister.

So, while we cook up steaks on the new grill or enjoy a first class fourth of July parade, Juno will be turning its instruments and cameras on, aimed at the second largest object in the solar system besides the sun.

It took five years to get there and what comes next from Juno will be well worth the wait. It will be a lot of very cool space stuff to get “technical” about it, and we get front row seats.

Daniel D. Grota
Daniel D. Grota retired from the U.S. Army after twenty one years of service.He is a radio personality on KVRF 89.5 Radio Free Palmer and a former columnist for the Mat-Su Frontiersman.


  1. Author’s correction: I made a mistake on the distance from Earth to Jupiter. It is not 1.66 million miles away from Earth. That was the distance of Juno spacecraft from Jupiter at the time of this writing( 2 JUL.16). It should read 588 million miles to 601 million miles( depending on Jupiter’s orbit) I got it mixed up on a graph I was using for the article and didn’t catch it until after the piece was published. My apologies for this error. Dan Grota

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