Back to the Land of the Giants
August 15, 2016

Hi Nick here,

Juno aircraft

NASA recently pulled off one of the more complex mission manoeuvres in recent history: the Juno spacecraft, speeding through space from Earth to Jupiter at a velocity (relative to Jupiter) of around 160,000 mph. In 2018 this impressive sounding speed will be vastly usurped by NASA’s solar probe which is expected to reach speeds of around 450,000 mph. To put that in perspective, at this speed the probe would get from the Earth to the Moon in about 30 minutes! It led the NASA mission director to exclaim “this is the most difficult thing NASA has ever done”. Words which for many seemed a little over zealous.

Sky Crane

For example, between 1968 and 1972, NASA sent multiple missions to not only orbit, but also to land and drive on the Moon. This is still thought by many to be the most difficult technical achievement in human history. Other notable achievements include landing the Mars Science Laboratory on Mars using the Sky Crane manoeuvre, the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the famous “Grand Tour” of the Voyager spacecraft in the 1970s and 80s. All of these amazing feats hold a special place in the hearts and minds of many space fans. Juno is a superb achievement however. Taking a spacecraft out over 500 million miles from the Sun and placing it in such a low orbit around a planet that could swallow ours a few times over in just one of its more famous storms, the great red spot, is a staggering achievement.

Battling the harsh radiation of Jupiter, whilst penetrating deep into the planet in an effort to understand how it formed, is no mean feat. Doing this on solar power makes it all the more noteworthy, as out at the distance of Jupiter and beyond, all previous spacecraft have relied on nuclear power systems. With vastly diminished sunlight, relative to here on Earth, getting enough power for a spacecraft was a formidable technical challenge. The instruments on board Juno, with names ranging from “JEDI” (an homage to Star Wars no doubt) and “Waves” are all designed to help scientists understand more about the formation of our solar system and its largest planet. But probably the coolest aspect of the Juno mission is not the instruments or the technology. It’s the fact that for the first time ever, LEGO figures are now in deep space, after NASA asked for three (depicting Juno, Jupiter and Galileo) to be specially made. To boldly go where no LEGO has gone before.

Nick is a friend and supporter of Living Paintings

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