NASA's Galileo spacecraft recovers in time to take its last pic

Sunday, January 20, 2002

PASADENA, Calif. -- The Galileo spacecraft recovered from a computer glitch, allowing it to take at least some of the last planned images of its 13-year mission to Jupiter, NASA said Friday.

The aging robotic probe was expected to acquire images of Jupiter's moons Amalthea and Europa, as well as of the planet itself, through today.

Galileo automatically shut down its camera and other science instruments Thursday after the spacecraft detected a computer reset, most likely caused by the intense radiation environment at Jupiter.

Because of the glitch, the spacecraft failed to take pictures during a flyby that took it within 63 miles of the volcanic surface of the moon Io.

The images were to have been the highest-resolution look yet at Io, the most volcanically active body known in the solar system. It was supposed to have been the cap on a mission that returned about 14,000 pictures to Earth.

Galileo has experienced multiple glitches since arriving in orbit around Jupiter in 1995.

Although the Io flyby was a scientific failure, it did accomplish its main goal of using the gravitational tug of the moon to alter the path the spacecraft travels around Jupiter enough to ensure that it will smack into the planet in September 2003, bringing the $1.4 billion mission to a fiery end.

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