Galileo's Project Manager Bill O'Neil, Project Scientist Dr. Torrence Johnson and a group of other Galileo team members are savoring memories of their recent visit to Italy, which included an historic meeting with Pope John Paul II, the presentation of honorary doctorates by the University of Padua and attendance at the Three Galileos Conference.
"All of us felt very excited to share with our Italian colleagues the latest results of the Galileo mission," said Johnson of the conference, which honored Galileo the man, Galileo the space mission to Jupiter, and Galileo the new national telescope of Italy.
O'Neil said of the meeting with the Pope, "None of us ever anticipated that Project Galileo would result in a papal audience. The Pope seemed very interested in learning about Galileo results. He encouraged continuing exploration of the universe."
Johnson said the Pope seemed "very insightful, interested and satisfied" with the results of the Galileo mission, but that he urged astronomers "to be conscious of the human aspect" of their work. An album of Galileo images was presented to the Pope.
The Three Galileos Conference was organized by the University of Padua, the Astronomical Observatory of Padua, NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the German space agency Deutsche Agentur fur Raumfahrt-Angelegenheiten, with support from the International Astronomical Union. Highlights included Galileo mission results, historical background on the astronomer Galileo, and dedication of the new 3.5-meter (11.5-foot) National Telescope Galileo, located in the Canary Islands. More than 20 Galileo team members were invited to present papers. Dr. Les Deutsch, who designed the inflight recovery of the Galileo mission using the spacecraft's low-gain antenna, presented an organ concert of music from Galileo's time in St. Anthony's Cathedral.
The conference setting was of great historical significance, since Galileo taught in Padua from 1592 to 1610, and it was there that he made the first observations of what we now call the Galilean moons of JupiterIo, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. In fact, the conference was held on some of the very nights of the year that he discovered the satellites.
Johnson said he "could always imagine Galileo walking into the room, trying to figure out what we were doing. He'd probably find it reasonably easy to understand, once he'd picked up some quantum theories, computer and radio communication techniques. The fundamentals are still the same."
O'Neil and Johnson were presented with honorary doctorates from the university, which included an official diploma and medal. University students provided some moments of levity by lavishing joke gifts on the honorees, including tin-foil rockets.
O'Neil noted that the conference provided a forum for the "most comprehensive collection of results from Project Galileo in one place. Because it was a joint U.S., Italian and German celebration, it's a very positive sign for future joint missions, such as Cassini."
The celebration of the Three Galileos will continue through June 15 with an exhibition, Voyage to the Cosmos, in Padua. The exhibition is housed in the 13th century Palazzo del Raggion, a medieval hall with walls covered by an astrological cycle painted in the 15th century. Highlights of the exhibition include a replica of Galileo's telescope, a 1/10th scale model of the Galileo spacecraft and a book of Galileo's results, printed in 1630.
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