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Friday, 3 March, 2000, 09:35 GMT
Crash plan for Galileo spaceprobe
Galileo has explored the Jovian region since 1995
Galileo has explored the Jovian region since 1995
Galileo, the $1.5bn Nasa spacecraft exploring Jupiter and its moons, may be deliberately crashed in 2002.

A member of the Galileo imaging team says the US space agency is considering the action to avoid any chance that it could strike and contaminate the moon Europa with microbes from Earth. Scientists believe simple life forms may exist on Europa.

Europa's crust of ice may conceal life
Europa's crust of ice may conceal life
"Galileo was never put into quarantine or cleaned up before it left the Earth, though I can't imagine any bugs would be alive on it after all the radiation it's been exposed to," said Kitt Peak astronomer Michael Belton.

"But just to be sure, they want to get rid of it and make sure it doesn't go into Europa, where we have a possible habitat of some kind of extraterrestrial life."

Scientists suspect that Europa has a liquid water ocean beneath its ice shell that might contain simple life forms.

Possible plunge

Galileo Project Manager Jim Erickson confirmed that the space agency is considering plunging the spacecraft into Jupiter, its moon Io or another icy satellite, other than Europa.

He said another option would be to aim the craft away from the planet and its moons "so the odds are it will never hit anything".

Galileo was launched in 1989 from the space shuttle Atlantis and travelled 4.3 billion kilometres (2.7 billion miles) before entering orbit around Jupiter in December 1995.

Its two-year main mission was followed by a two-year extension that focused on Europa. The extension ended in January, and the battered probe has embarked on a new one, called the Galileo Millennium Mission.

The craft completed its closest flyby of Io last month, passing just 200 kilometres (124 miles) above the fiery moon. The Millennium Mission is expected to last until at least February 2001.

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See also:

09 Feb 00 |  Sci/Tech
Jupiter's thunderous rising damp
11 Jan 00 |  Sci/Tech
Spacecraft finds alien ocean
23 Feb 00 |  Sci/Tech
Galileo's brush with volcanic moon
17 Nov 99 |  Sci/Tech
By Jupiter! Confusion over planet
11 Oct 99 |  Sci/Tech
Galileo sweeps over Io's volcanoes
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