Arriving at planet Jupiter: A tribute to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)
At 8:53 PM California (USA) time on 4 July 2016 - the U.S. Independence Day - the spacecraft Juno deployed by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) arrived at a desired orbit around Jupiter, which is one of the planets in the solar system. The Earth, on which the continents of Africa, America, Europe, and Asia are located, is of course a part of the solar system. The Earth and other planets in the solar system (Mars, Mercury, Venus, and so on) - are delicately suspended in their respective atmospheres; they are approximately spherical in shape, and are surrounded by clouds - which you can see if you look upwards into the sky. The planets have their own moons and stars: those for the earth are visible on a clear night.
The journey of spacecraft Juno from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California; a suburb of Los Angeles, to Jupiter, took 5 years to complete. The average speed of the vehicle was 130,000 miles per hour, hitting a maximum of 165,000 miles per hour at some point. (At the average speed, the spacecraft would require less than 7 minutes to travel from Lagos, Nigeria, to New York City in the U.S.) This is simply awesome. For another perspective, commercial airliners like Boeing 777, take up to 11 hours 20 minutes for a non-stop flight between these two cities. Equally astonishing is the fact that Juno missed the arrival time at Jupiter’s desired orbit predicted 5 years ago - by just one second. This kind of precision is simply out-of-this-world!
To arrive at Jupiter’s atmosphere, the spacecraft had travelled 1.7 billion miles into space from California. To slow down from its speed in order to enter Jupiter’s orbit, the spacecraft “burned” its engine by slamming on the brakes for a good 35 minutes.
Jupiter is of particular interest to humans in terms of understanding how the world came to be and finding out more about the human race and the possibility of life outside planet earth. Jupiter is the biggest and most complicated planet in the solar system. It is characterized by intense electromagnetic field and intense thermal radiation. Is Jupiter a rock like its sister planets in the solar system, or is it a gas like the sun? We want to know. What about Jupiter’s moons and stars? Is there life on Jupiter or its moons?
Juno, which is currently encircling Jupiter in an orbit, will continue to do so until 20 February 2018, to collect data that could help us address some of the foregoing questions. After this date, the spacecraft has been programmed to self-destruct into Jupiter - burn off perhaps - so as not to crash into Europa and contaminate it with the microorganisms unintentionally carried by Juno from earth. (Europa is a moon of Jupiter; it is regarded as one of the likely places for life elsewhere in the solar system.)
The U.S. has sent a spacecraft to Jupiter before: Galileo was sent in 2003, spending eight years there to survey the planet and its many moons. “But except for a probe that parachuted into Jupiter’s atmosphere, Galileo did not have the tools that Juno does, to delve into what lies beneath Jupiter’s clouds.” NASA considers Juno’s successful deployment as the most significant achievement of the organization - even bigger than landing man on the moon in the Apollo program.
The second part of this article is the importance of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects. The STEM fields advance the course of human civilization. We owe to the STEM fields, human inventions such as automobiles, airplanes, spacecraft and rockets, agricultural machineries and advances in farming, electricity, computer technology, refrigeration and airconditioning, and so on.
Should poor countries encourage their students to pursue aerospace engineering? Of course, they should. First of all, we should not all be studying the same subject - agriculture/ history, or whatever. As humans, we have different talents; students with talents in the STEM subjects should be encouraged and given the opportunities to pursue what they want. Moreover, children in the poorest of nations are just as intelligent in the STEM fields as those in the rich nations, and should be given the opportunity to shine - as well.
Some people have opined that we needed to solve the problems “on the surface of the earth” before dabbling into studies of aeronautics or space. Wouldn’t they rather have their own people ultimately design and build the planes they travel on than buying them from abroad?
Let’s exploit our children’s and grandchildren’s God-given talents, no matter where they happen to be located on the planet. Let’s contribute to the advancement of human civilization by encouraging our children and grandchildren to opt for the STEM fields in college/ university.