Artist's depiction of the Galileo spacecraft near Jupiter's moon Io.
Click on image for full size
Image courtesy NASA/JPL.

Galileo Reaches the End of its Road
News story originally written on September 19, 2003

The Galileo spacecraft has finally reached the end of its road. Galileo has been orbiting Jupiter since 1995. On September 21, 2003, Galileo will dive into Jupiter's atmosphere and burn up. This crash into Jupiter is not an accident; mission planners have aimed the robotic spacecraft at Jupiter!

Galileo has lasted much longer than its original mission plan intended. But now Galileo is running low on fuel and its instruments are failing after years of exposure to radiation. The Galileo mission team could shut Galileo down and letting it drift in orbit around Jupiter. Instead, they have chosen to aim the craft on a collision course with Jupiter. Why? Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, is one of the most likely places in the Solar System to find life. If Galileo is left to drift, there is a chance it might someday crash into Europa. There may be living microbes (or their spores) lurking somewhere inside the Galileo spacecraft. A crash into Europa could infect the moon with Earthly microbes.

Galileo has been a very successful mission that has helped us learn a great deal about the largest planet in our Solar System, its many moons and complex rings, and the vast magnetic fields and deadly radiation belts that surround Jupiter. The Galileo mission crew is sad to see Galileo end. However, they are proud of what Galileo has done in its long mission. They made a list of some of Galileo's greatest accomplishments. Here are some of those:

Last modified September 19, 2003 by Randy Russell.

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more


The Galileo spacecraft was launched on October 19, 1989. Galileo had two parts: an orbiter and a descent probe that parachuted into Jupiter's atmosphere. Galileo's main mission was to explore Jupiter and...more


Europa was first discovered by Galileo in 1610, making it one of the Galilean Satellites. It is Jupiter's 4th largest moon, 670,900 km from Jupiter. With a diameter that is about half the distance across...more

Interior of Europa

The diagram to the left shows a cutaway of the possible interior structure of Europa. The composition of the icy moons is mostly ice, therefore there is probably a small core of some rocky material buried...more

Interior of Ganymede

The diagram to the left shows a cutaway of the possible inside structure of Ganymede, based on recent measurements by the Galileo spacecraft. It shows a small core of metal, overlain with some rocky material,...more

The Atmosphere of Europa

The Galileo mission discovered something amazing! Europa has its own atmosphere, although it is very, very thin. This atmosphere is created when fast moving molecules in Jupiter's magnetosphere hit the...more

Magnetosphere of Ganymede

When the Galileo spacecraft flew by Ganymede, it found something that was a big surprise to everyone -- a very strong magnetic field. This is the first time a strong magnetic field had been found near...more

Galileo Finds More Volcanoes on Io

The Galileo spacecraft photographed volcanoes on the surface of Io, one of Jupiter's moons. Scientists believe there are at least 300 volcanoes on the moon. These volcanoes are somewhat different than...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA