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by Brick Walters, 5/12/00

Dc: This is DCR, news meant for amusement. Scientists have discovered that fiery volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io are the main source of dust streams that flow from the Jupiter system into the rest of the galaxy. These findings come from NASA's Galileo spacecraft. Technicians have just about run out of ideas for what to do with the Galileo space probe, which long ago outlived its mission to explore the neighborhood of Jupiter. And yet Galileo continues to … continue, a source of dismay and conflict for the scientists who operate her. Brick Walters reports.

(sfx: highly technical equipment sound)

Slim: "Ten years ago it was more exciting."

Brick: Slim Tolerance, the space agency's official MOP, or Manager of Old Probes.

Slim: "I used to drive in to work early in the morning, eager to see what the day would bring. In the evening I'd rush home to tell my wife the news. Well, my wife and I got divorced 8 years ago and the car I drove … it's a scrap heap now. People change, stars explode, your kids grow up and come to hate you, but that probe … just keeps "probing."

(sfx: highly technical equipment sound fade out)

Brick: Indeed. In the 11 years since Galileo left Earth, it's delivered a complete study of Jupiter, found tantalizing signs of life on the moon Europa, catalogued the solar system's largest volcanoes on Io, photographed the impact of the Shoemaker-Levy comet and more. Meanwhile, the more recent, more expensive, and higher profiled Mars probes have fizzled. All this is frustrating to space scientists who balk at the idea of having to supervise the ancient craft indefinitely. This anonymous staffer could not conceal her bitterness.

Ann: (filtered voice) When Galileo was launched, I was ten. I got into space exploration thinking I'd use the newest equipment, but here I am tracking a piece of junk that has about as much memory as my clock radio.
Brick: And you find that discouraging?

Ann: I would drive the Galileo probe off a cliff. If there was a cliff.

Brick: In fact, control of the plucky space probe has fallen to young scientists with the least status. I recently spoke to Galileo controller "Tommy," who suggested that the space agency no longer cares about the stellar results being turned in by this relatively inexpensive piece of equipment.

(sfx: video arcade)

Tommy: Yeah, I've been down here tracking Galileo for months. We got some pictures of Jupiter's moon Europa, and you can actually see motion down there under the ice. Lit it's a school of monster squid or something. We got excited. But the brass, they don't want to hear it. They're just totally into these Mars missions, you know?

Squawk Box: Tommy! I told you to fly Galileo through the radiation belt in sector 24. I'm looking at the telemetry right now, and I don't see any radiation!

Tommy: I was gonna. I just thought you'd want some more pictures of the ice squid.

Squawk Box: When I want more pictures of your squid, I'll ask for them. Start pulling those rads up, mister!

Tommy: OK, OK! Jeez.

Squawk Box: Then send it up through the ring system, into the asteroid field, and as close as you can get to one of the volcanoes on Io. I want to see if it's spewing out any lava or dust or stuff.
Tommy: Which volcano?

Squawk Box: I don't really care, Tommy. Pick one. A hot one.

Brick: Tommy performed all the requested maneuvers, and still, despite the odds, the versatile little probe kept on doing it's job, just as it has the past eleven years. Old Probe Manager Slim Tolerance.

Slim: Of course we love the Galileo here. Even though it makes our more expensive efforts look foolish.

Brick: (questioning) That doesn't bother you?

Slim: Naw. We really love that cheap little sucker.

Brick: So you're not trying to destroy it?

Slim: Why would we do that? It's got important work to do, like finding out what's in a volcano and how hard are asteroids and what sort of hot gas does it take to blow a little spacecraft to smithereens. That kind of thing.

Brick: Galileo controller … "Tommy."

(sfx: video arcade)

Tommy: If I didn't know better, I'd say they were trying to wreck it. Which is really too bad, you know? It's like finding an old version of "Pong" and tossing it out because it doesn't have the graphics. But remember, the mission was simply diversion and entertainment. And Pong always got the job done. Sometimes I still play it.

Brick: After traveling 2.7 billion miles, it seems the plucky little probe has finally encountered a mystery it cannot solve: What happens to a government program that works better than expected? NASA reportedly plans an investigation to find out what didn't go wrong with the Galileo mission and to develop contingency plans in case a series of mishaps don't happen again. Out in the field, I'm Brick Walters.


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