NASA celebrated a key triumph on Tuesday as its $1.1 billion Juno spacecraft successfully slipped into orbit around Jupiter on a mission to probe the origin of the solar system.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California erupted in cheers as the solar observatory entered its aimed-for orbit around the biggest planet in our cosmic neighborhood at 11:53 pm (03:53am GMT Tuesday).
“We are there. We are in orbit. We conquered Jupiter,” said Scott Bolton, NASA’s principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.
“It is almost like a dream coming true.”
Juno launched five years ago from Cape Canaveral, Florida and has traveled 1.7 billion miles (2.7 billion kilometers) since then.
Its arrival marks the start of a 20-month mission, during which scientists hope to find out more about how much water Jupiter holds and the makeup of its core in order to figure out how the gas giant — and other planets including Earth — formed billions of years ago.
“This amazing universe that we see, how does that work and how did it begin? that is one of the amazing things about working for NASA and working on big projects. You get to answer big questions” asked NASA project scientist Steve Levin.
The spacecraft is equipped with nine science instruments, including a camera, which prior to orbit captured a video of Jupiter and its moons gliding around it at different speeds.
“In all of history we’ve never really been able to see the motion of any heavenly body against another,” said Bolton, after showing the video during a post-orbit press conference for the first time.
“This is the king of our solar system and its disciples going around it,” he said.
“To me, it is very significant. We are finally able to see with real video, with real pictures, this movement and we have only been able to imagine it up until today.”
All non-essential equipment was turned off for the approach, but the first post-orbit pictures from the spacecraft’s on-board camera should arrive in a few days, NASA said.