After a five year journey from Earth, Juno the solar-powered spacecraft squeezed through a narrow band, skimming Jupiter’s surface, avoiding the worst of both its radiation belt and its dangerous dust rings.
It fired its main engine, slowing its velocity, and allowing it to get captured into Jupiter’s hefty orbit.
After it was complete, jubilant scientists fronted a press conference, and tore up a “contingency communication strategy” they said they prepared in case things went wrong.
“To know we can go to bed tonight not worrying about what is going to happen tomorrow, is just amazing,” said Diane Brown, a project manager from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Scott Bolton, principle investigator of the Juno mission told his colleagues: “You’re the best team ever! We just did the hardest thing Nasa has ever done.”
Now the spacecraft will orbit the planet once every 53 days until October 14, when it will shift to a tighter 14-day orbit. And after about 20 months of learning everything it can about Jupiter’s interior and its atmosphere, it will eventually succumb to the harsh environment and plunge into the planet’s crushing centre.