December 10, 1995 in Nation/World

The Latest From Jupiter: Ones And Zeros

Los Angeles Times

Engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena were all ears Saturday as the Galileo spacecraft began to send back news of its encounter with Jupiter almost a full day earlier than planned.

“Things were going so well we decided to go ahead and start downloading,” said Galileo systems manager Jim Marr.

The news from the probe - now vaporized in the giant planet’s high pressure atmosphere - is coming to Earth as so much computer babble. But at least it’s talking, and its vocal chords appear to be in good shape.

“I never knew ones and zeros could be so exciting,” said Probe Project Manager Marcie Smith, referring to the digital code that carries the information on radio beams through space.

The data coming into to JPL traveled via radio signal from the Jupiter probe into the mother ship’s main computer last Thursday. From there, it hitched a ride on a continuous radio beam to NASA’s Deep Space Antenna network, and finally to JPL.

The engineers don’t know what the strings of numbers mean yet. Decoding the digital bits was to begin this morning, when the data gets parceled out to scientists responsible for various experiments.

“We certainly hope it isn’t gibberish,” said Marr, munching on a probe-shaped cookie designed and baked by flight operations manager Charlie Sobeck. “I hope Jupiter had as much fun eating our probe!” Marr joked.

Smith and Sobeck had been looking at ones and zeros all morning, ever since the command was sent to Galileo to start regurgitating the data transmitted by the probe before it turned to Jupiter dust.

Somewhere in those strings of numbers lie detailed descriptions of a scene never glimpsed before by humankind: the inner world of a giant gas planet.

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