CAPE CANAVERAL Fla. – NASA launched the Juno Spacecraft, bound for the planet Jupiter at 12:25 a.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 41. The spacecraft was launched atop an Atlas V rocket (551 configuration). The launch took place after a technical issue and a wayward boat (the launch pad is near the ocean and the boat was too clse for comfort) caused a slip from the first launch attempt at 11:43 a.m. The launch drew throngs of people to not only the “Tweetup” held by NASA at Kennedy Space Center’s press site – but to the adjacent Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex as well.
Juno will be placed into polar orbit around Jupiter in order to provide a better understanding of the planet’s magnetic field, composition and its polar magnetosphere. Some of the questions that it is hoped that Juno can answer are how the planet formed, the amount of water that the deep atmosphere (Jupiter is essentially comprised entirely of gas) and whether or not the planet has a rocky core.
It will take the spacecraft about five years to reach Jupiter, if all goes according to plan it should arrive at the giant planet in July of 2016. Once there, the probe will orbit the planet about 33 times. Reaching the planet is not possible with the speeds it will obtain on-orbit. As such, it is required that the planet conduct a flyby of Earth a full two years after it leaves the ground.
The Atlas V rocket that was used for this mission (AV-029) is powered by kerosene and liquid oxygen engines that will light first. About four seconds after the main engines fire up, five strap-on solid rocket boosters (SRB) will ignite and remain lit for close to a minute and a half. The SRBs will provide the required thrust needed to place the spacecraft on the proper trajectory.
With the shuttle era over, many in the Space Coast region worried that the area would be struck by a “interest drought.” However fans of space exploration made their presence known. At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Press Site, the NASA “Tweetup” saw more attendees than actual members of the press (81 members of the press applied for accreditation, while over 150 twitter fans were in attendance). At the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex the numbers of guests in attendance were comparable to that of a shuttle launch. The percentage of guests in attendance was up 100 percent from the same time period the year previous.
“Visitor attendance today exceeded our expectations, doubling a normal operating day,” said Bill Moore, Chief Operating Officer of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. “We look forward to hosting audiences on Sept. 8 for the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (Grail) launch to the moon and Nov. 25 for the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity) mission.”
The “Tweetup” was held to allow members of the emerging social media to cover the launch in their own fashion. NASA has recognized that this outreach effort has been very successful and has continued to offer it for a variety of NASA events. For the Juno launch, the “Tweetup” saw guests arrive from 28 different states as well as Canada, Finland, Norway and Spain. Attendees were randomly selected by NASA to watch the launch and were treated to a wide range of guests including Bill Nye, “The Science Guy.”
“Space exploration brings out the best of us,” said Nye. “It is an awesome use of our resources, our treasure and this event helps highlight and promote that.”