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#Juno, #Jupiter and #Europa: Why space matters for Europe

tumblr_lkza580tHC1qze1fwo1_250On July 5, this year, after a five-year voyage across 12.8 billion km, NASA’s Juno spacecraft passed into the orbit of the fifth rock from the Sun, Jupiter, writes Namira Salim (pictured), founder of Space Trust.

This is one of NASA’s greatest achievements: Juno will carry out an array of tests on the planet, examining the structure and the chemistry of Jupiter to look for clues to how it formed some four-and-a-half-billion years ago. The mission is fraught with dangers –Jupiter has a powerful magnetic field and radiation belt – but if the spacecraft succeeds, it will give us our best understanding to date of this giant, mysterious world.

Why should this matter for Europe?

Firstly, because Juno’s epic journey into the unknown echoes the voyages Europeans undertook more than five centuries ago as they sought to explore the world they lived in. Even if Juno is a NASA mission, it is following in the footsteps of European pioneers from generations ago.

Science and exploration are the greatest economic motors we have: they can spur innovation, offer alternative perspectives and provide a whole new canvas for where we want to be as people. Europeans understood this long ago, but they still need reminding today.

Secondly, because Europe is also part of the great space journey. The past two years alone has been extraordinary time for exploration, a period that includes Juno and NASA’s New Horizons space probe that flew by Pluto in July last year. But perhaps the most audacious of all the ventures was the November 2014 Rosetta mission by the European Space Agency (ESA) that landed the Philae spacecraft on the 67P comet. This was the first ever landing by a probe onto a comet, and was a triumph of the imagination.

While NASA, the ESA, and other agencies may sometimes seem like they are engaged in a constant space race, the reality is that they work closely with one another, and often support each others’ successes. It is notably the case with the International Space Station (ISS), which is arguably the most expensive single item ever constructed at around €140 billion, and one of the most complex international scientific and engineering projects in history.

The third reason is because Europe needs to rediscover the social value of exploration. Exploration helps us understand our common humanity. And it is when we break the surly bonds of Earth and venture into space that we see more clearly what unites us is so much greater than what divides us.

From the distance of space, the differences between our nations, cultures and peoples appear so paltry, petty and parochial. From space, we see how much we share, as we try find our way on the only planet we have ever lived on.

Which brings me back to Juno. Although a NASA creation, Juno is an emissary of Earth and humankind. Amongst its tasks is to look at some of Jupiter’s moons, including the extraordinary Europa. With its silicate rock structure, its water-ice crust, and tenuous oxygen atmosphere, Europa is seen as a potential home for life forms.

Europa was named by Galileo Galilei not after Europe the continent, but after the Greek legend that inspired it: Europa was one of the lovers of Zeus, the original Greek version of Jupiter: the Juno probe carries three Lego minifigures representing Galileo, Jupiter, and Juno – a European toy package of science and mythology.

Although Juno is a NASA creation, it is an emissary of Earth, of humankind. And its encounter with Europa should be especially symbolic for Europeans. As we continue to explore our solar system, Europeans have every reason to feel inspired.

The past two years alone have been an extraordinary time for exploration, a period that not only includes Juno, but also, NASA’s New Horizons Space probe that flew by Pluto in July last year.

As we continue to explore our solar system and beyond, Europeans have every reason to feel inspired.

Namira Salim is a polar explorer, a ‎founder astronaut of Virgin Galactic, and founder of Space Trust, an enterprise devoted to making space the new frontier for peace. Follow Namira @NamiraSalim

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Category: A Frontpage, EU, Space

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