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Galileo is dead

Well, Galileo is almost dead. Thirteen years after being launched, the space probe is facing technological death — NASA is going to crash it into Jupiter:

Deep inside Jupiter’s powerful radiation field, Galileo will encounter 100 times the fatal dose for a human, possibly enough to fry its electronic brain.

After circling the solar system’s biggest planet for seven years - five more than originally planned - Galileo is virtually blind, has trouble speaking and its mind is starting to go.

“Galileo has been exposed to four times the radiation it was designed for,” said NASA’s Guy Webster. “There are some things that aren’t working any more … some circuits are shot.”

Its camera and tape recorder are playing up, it is almost out of the fuel needed to control balance and its voice has been reduced to a whisper, thanks to its main antenna jamming shut years ago, cutting the expected flood of information and pictures to a trickle.

I used to have such nostalgia for these probes, back when NASA started firing them off in the 70s and National Geographic ran extensive photos of their early planetary voyagaes in the 80s. Indeed, National Geographic, with its uber-geek profiles of the Space Shuttle, interplanetary probes, and slime mold, arguably prefigured all modern geek media, like Wired and Discover.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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