SANANTONIO-- Are we alone?Is there life on other planets? We might be closer to finding out.
What NASA calls a clever robot is on its way to study the biggest planet in our solar system. A portion of the world will get to see Juno in October as it passes by Earth.
What we're really after is the recipe of how to make planets, Dr. Scott Bolton said.
He is after those answers. He works at the Southwest Research Institute headquartered in San Antonio, and he's the brainchild behind NASA's latest exploratory mission.
The whole spacecraft is about 80 feet in diameter, he said.
Juno was launched in 2011. It's on its way to collect data from the biggest planet in our solar system, Jupiter.
NASA scientists say the planet is a giant ball of gas composed of more elements than the Sun. So by finding out why, we hope to find out more about us.
It's gonna help us understand where we came from, how Earth got its water, where the elements came from that created life, Bolton said.
Juno won't begin its orbit around Jupiter until July 4, 2016, but before it gets there, it needs a little boost.
We fly by the Earth and we use the Earth's gravity to accelerate us even faster so that we can reach the speed we need to get out to Jupiter, he said.
Think of it as a slingshot. It will happen on October 9, of this year but you'll have to be in South Africa to catch a glimpse of Juno.
When we get to Jupiter, we have to fire our engine to slow down so Jupiter's gravity will grab us, he said.
The expectation is that Juno will collect data from Jupiter for about a year and a half, sending vital information to NASA.
Juno will probably find some surprises. We'll learn new things, he said.
Including possibly the answer that age-old question; Are we alone?
The Southwest Research Institute built two of the science instruments on Juno. It's the first solar-powered spacecraft making its way to Jupiter.
The project is funded by NASA, and several other countries, including Italy and France, have had a helping hand in the mission.