Here's How NASA Paid Homage To Galileo Galilei

Italian astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei made major contributions during the Scientific Revolution. He came up with innovative inventions and discoveries in astronomy, physics, and math, earning him the title "The Father of Modern Science." In the early 17th century, Galileo made use of a telescope of his own design and discovered the four moons of Jupiter, and it was for that reason that NASA decided to pay tribute to the great astronomer by naming one of its spacecraft after him.

The Galileo orbiter spacecraft was launched on October 18, 1989, from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Its main mission was to study Jupiter and its moons, and it came equipped with an imaging camera, a mapping spectrometer, an atmospheric structure instrument, and other state-of-the-art equipment, as Jet Propulsion Laboratory notes. The Galileo arrived on Jupiter's orbit in December 1995, and it was the first-ever spacecraft to study the planet and its moons at length. The spacecraft orbited Jupiter for years and scientists and researchers made major discoveries through the project, including the presence of thunderstorms in Jupiter and layers of saltwater underneath some of the planet's largest moons (via NASA).

In total, the Galileo spacecraft orbited Jupiter 34 times and traveled a distance of 4.6 billion kilometers during the mission.

Galileo spacecraft crashes into Jupiter's atmosphere

In 2003, Galileo ended its 14-year study by plunging into Jupiter's atmosphere. Before the end of the mission, Galileo had run out of fuel, and so scientists decided that it was best for the spacecraft to crash into Jupiter rather than one of its moons, Europa, where potential life can be destroyed, as reported by University Today. The event was momentous for Galileo mission team members, and they gathered at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, to see the spacecraft for the final time.

Although the spacecraft was destroyed, scientists who worked on the project say that the mission was successful and they were rewarded with new discoveries. "We learned mind-boggling things. This mission was worth its weight in gold," project manager Dr. Claudia Alexander said. Galileo disintegrated into Jupiter's atmosphere, and the last signal from the spacecraft was received at 12:43:14 PDT on September 21, 2003. 

Just like its namesake Galileo Galilei, the Galileo spacecraft has contributed valuable information to the field of space exploration.