IN THE NEWS Today's Headlines - January 6, 2003


from The Washington Post

CAPE CANAVERAL -- NASA's Galileo spacecraft, crippled by old age, suffering from hellish doses of radiation and nearly out of fuel, has completed its last major objective, all but closing out one of the most successful voyages of planetary exploration ever.

In November, seven years after braking into orbit around the solar system's largest planet, Galileo streaked past Amalthea, one of Jupiter's inner moons, and dipped deeper into the planet's seething radiation belts than ever before for a final death-defying flyby.

The radiation scrambled Galileo's computer timing circuits, sent the spacecraft into electronic hibernation and caused its tape recorder, loaded with priceless data, to freeze up. But in one more display of technical virtuosity, engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., brought the spacecraft back to life and got the recorder working in time to play back a final treasure trove of data, a task they hope to complete this week.

Over the next few weeks, engineers expect to finish the job of retrieving additional data that was stored earlier. At that point, 13 years after launch and seven years after arrival at Jupiter, the Galileo mission will come to a fiery end.