In Their Own Words: Experts Talk Juno

Several scientists and experts discussed the Juno mission to Jupiter with Universe Today. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/

CAPE CANAVERAL Fla. – Many experts took time out of their hectic schedules to talk with Universe Today in the day leading up to the launch of the Juno spacecraft. Some even took the time to talk to us just minutes before the probe was scheduled to be launched on its mission. Check out what they had to say below:

Juno Project Scientist Steve Levin was at Kennedy Space Center to watch the Juno probe begin its five-year journey to Jupiter. He took a few minutes of his time to talk about what his expectations are for this mission.

Levin has been with JPL since 1990, one of the previous projects he worked on is the Planck mission which launched in 2009.

Levin believes that Juno could fundamentally change the way we view Jupiter. He was one of many VIPs that descended on Kennedy Space Center to watch as Juno thundered to orbit atop at Atlas V rocket.

Sami Asmar is part of the science team that is working on the Juno project. He was at the rollout of the Atlas rocket to the pad. Here is what he had to say about the mission (note the Atlas rocket moving out behind him).

Bill Nye the Science Guy was a very busy man while at Kennedy Space Center. He still took the time to chat with Universe Today about his views on this mission. Unfortunately, with little time to spare, we had to conduct the interview within minutes of the first launch attempt. A good chunk of Nye’s interview – was drowned out by the lead up to the countdown!

The usual launch of an Atlas consists of the launch team coming in, pushing a button and going home – the launch vehicle is that reliable. This day, things occurred quite differently. A technical issue coupled with a wayward boat that had drifted too close to the launch pad saw the launch time slip from 11:34 a.m. EDT to 12:25 p.m. When the rocket did take off however it was a spectacular sight to behold, faster than other iterations of the Atlas, it roared off the pad, sending Juno on its way to Jupiter.

Juno Spacecraft Honors Those Who Started It All

The Juno spacecraft, now safely on its way to the planet Jupiter, is carrying along with it several artifacts in honor of its voyage. Onboard the probe are three, tiny figurines of key players in the mythological and historical background of the gas giant. LEGO figurines of the Roman god Jupiter, his wife Juno and Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei have had their 1.5-inch likenesses added to the voyage.

In Roman mythology Jupiter had cast a veil of clouds over himself to hide his activities. Undeterred, his wife, Juno, peered through the clouds to see Jupiter’s true nature. Hence, her representation onboard the Juno spacecraft – is holding a spyglass. The last member of this odd ‘crew’ is Galileo, the man who made a number of important discoveries regarding the Jovian system.

From left-to-right: The Roman god Jupiter, his wife Juno (with spyglass to check up on Jupiter's activities) and the famous Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei. Photo Credit: NASA

The inclusion of these three figures is part of a joint effort between NASA and the LEGO group to spark interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math or STEM in children. NASA went one step further in acknowledging the accomplishments of the man that made so many discoveries about this massive world. It has included a plaque in honor or Galileo.

During his life, Galileo contributed greatly to mankind’s understanding of the solar system. He discovered in 1610 what have since been dubbed the “Galilean moons” – Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

This plaque is affixed to the Juno probe bound for Jupiter. It shows an illustration of Galileo as well as an inscription he made regarding the gas giant. Photo Credit: NASA

The plaque was donated by the Italian Space Agency and it measures 2.8 by 2 inches (71 by 51 millimeters). The plaque is manufactured from flight grade aluminum and weighs six grams or about 0.2 ounces. The plaque includes an illustration of the famous astronomer along with an inscription – in his own hand – a passage he made in 1610 concerning his observations of Jupiter. The inscription reads:

“On the 11th it was in this formation — and the star closest to Jupiter was half the size than the other and very close to the other so that during the previous nights all of the three observed stars looked of the same dimension and among them equally afar; so that it is evident that around Jupiter there are three moving stars invisible till this time to everyone.”

Juno thunders to orbit, with three very odd crew members on board. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

Juno successfully lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 at 12:25 p.m. EDT on Friday, August 5. It will take the probe about five years to reach Jupiter. Once there it will enter in a polar orbit around the world where it will use its suite of instruments to peer beneath the veil of Jupiter’s clouds to study the planet’s gravity, magnetosphere and whether-or-not the planet has a rocky core.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. The Juno mission is part of the New Frontiers Program managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the Juno spacecraft.

It will take the Juno spacecraft five years to reach Jupiter. Each one of its massive solar arrays is about the size of a tractor-trailer. Image Credit: NASA