Senator on Jupiter mission: “Another sign America’s space program is alive and well”
August 5, 2011
CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA - Even as critics question the direction and future of America’s space program, NASA is making final preparations for the crackling launch today of an Atlas V rocket that is to power a probe called Juno on a five-year mission to explore the solar system’s largest planet.
About 40 minutes into the flight, the Atlas rocket's second stage should perform a burn that will send Juno out into deep space and on its long journey to Jupiter – some 450 million miles away. The solar-powered spacecraft will orbit Jupiter's poles almost three dozen times as it spends one year investigating the planet’s origins, structure and atmosphere. Its color camera will provide close-up images including the first detailed glimpse of the planet's poles.
“This is just another sign that America’s space program is alive and well,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who intends to be on hand for the historic launch. “A lot’s starting to happen.”
On Thursday, the Boeing Co. announced it would use the same Atlas V rocket to ride American astronauts back to space as early as 2015. Boeing is one of four companies receiving seed money from NASA to develop commercial space taxis to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
The others are: SpaceX, Sierra Nevada and Blue Origin. Besides Boeing, Sierra Nevada and Blue Origin also plan to launch spacecraft on the Atlas V. On June 4, 2010, SpaceX successfully launched its own Falcon 9 rocket in what was a key milestone for the commercial space flight industry.
“The winner of this competition will be America,” Nelson said after Boeing’s announcement yesterday.
Besides unmanned probes like Juno and a new commercial taxi system for low-Earth orbit, Nelson led the congressional effort last fall to have NASA build a new monster rocket to take astronauts to deep space in preparation for human missions to Mars. He and others in Congress have been pushing NASA in recent weeks to get going on that plan.
Also Thursday, NASA announced one of its orbiter satellites has taken new pictures that point to the possibility of seasonal liquid water on the Red Planet’s surface - water on Mars. And later this year, NASA is scheduled to launch the car-sized Mars Science Laboratory, named Curiosity, for a landing on Mars in August 2012.