Galileo Spacecraft May Be Crashed
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) _ A NASA spacecraft exploring Jupiter and its moons
may be deliberately crashed to avoid any chance that it could strike and
contaminate the moon Europa, where scientists believe simple life forms
Galileo, launched in 1989, has traveled 500 million miles to study the
A member of the Galileo imaging team says NASA are considering crashing
the spacecraft into Jupiter or one of its icy moons in 2002 because it
might still contain microbes from Earth.
``It was never put into quarantine or cleaned up before it left the
Earth, though I can't imagine any bugs would be alive on it after all
the radiation it's been exposed to,'' Kitt Peak astronomer Michael
Belton said Wednesday.
``Just to be sure, they want to get rid of it and make sure it doesn't
go into Europa, where we have a possible habitat of some kind of
Scientists suspect that Europa has an ocean beneath its ice shell that
might contain simple life forms.
Galileo Project Manager Jim Erickson confirmed that the space agency is
considering plunging the spacecraft into Jupiter, the moon Io or an icy
satellite other than Europa.
Another option would be to aim the craft away from the planet and its
moons ``so the odds are it will never hit anything,'' he said.
``We're looking at all kinds of options,'' said Erickson, who works at
the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
The $1.5 billion Galileo probe was launched in 1989 from the space
shuttle Atlantis. It entered orbit around Jupiter in December 1995, and
its two-year main mission was followed by a two-year extension that
focused on Europa.
The Europa extension ended in January, and the battered probe has
embarked on a new one, called the Galileo Millennium Mission. The craft
completed its closest flyby of Io last month, passing 124 miles above
the fiery moon. Galileo has begun relaying volcano pictures and other
data from that encounter.
The Millennium Mission is expected to last until at least February 2001.