NASA spacecraft gets first photos of Jupiter

The Associated Press
Friday October 06, 2000

PASADENA — NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, en route to a 2004 rendezvous with Saturn, snapped its first image of the giant planet Jupiter as engineers worked to understand a communications problem with a companion probe. 

The problem involves the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe, which will detach from Cassini and parachute to the Saturnian moon Titan in late 2004. The problem does not affect Cassini’s primary mission of orbiting Saturn. 

“We’re still investigating it,” said Bob Mitchell, Cassini’s program manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “The probe relay doesn’t occur for another four years, so we have got a lot of time to work it.” 

Meanwhile, NASA released the first picture taken by Cassini of the gas planet Jupiter. 

The black-and-white image, shot from a distance of more than 52 million miles, shows the planet’s cloud bands and swirling Great Red Spot, which has been noted by astronomers since the first telescopes were aimed at the planet 300 years ago. 

Though the picture does not reveal anything new about the planet, it confirms the $3.4 billion mission’s imaging systems are working properly, Mitchell said. “It is very reassuring to see that the entire system is working just great,” he said. 

Cassini is expected to return a steady stream of Jovian images as it flies closer to the planet. Each will be taken with a different filter and they will be combined to produce full-color images. 

By the end of the probe’s flyby of Jupiter at the end of March 2001, controllers expect to have a collection of images that rival those taken by the Voyager spacecraft in 1979 even though Cassini will not fly as close. 

“We have a better, higher-quality, later-technology camera than Voyager,” Mitchell said. “Before we’re done, we should have some very spectacular images.” 

A tape recorder malfunction prevented similar pictures from being sent back by the Galileo spacecraft, which continues to orbit the planet. Three global pictures taken at the start of the mission remain stuck on the recorder. 

Since its 1997 launch, Cassini has flown by Earth once and Venus twice, each time using gravity to gain speed and change direction as it heads for Saturn. Its closest approach to Jupiter takes place Dec. 30. 

Cassini is scheduled to arrive at Saturn on July 1, 2004. 


On the Web: Cassini home page: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/cassini