NASA's Galileo spacecraft completed the first major milestone in its gravity-assisted flight to Jupiter late Friday night and early Saturday morning, Feb. 10, when it flew a carefully designed course close to the planet Venus.

Closest approach, about 10,000 miles above the surface, 41 degrees south of Venus's equator, came as planned one minute before 1 a.m. EST on Saturday (10 p.m.PST Friday). This moment was the midpoint of a four-hour period in which the planet's gravity increased Galileo's speed by almost 5,000 mph.

"This is why the spacecraft came to Venus," said Project Manager Richard Spehalski. "It went really well."

Two more gravity assists, both from planet Earth, lie ahead for Galileo before it has enough velocity to reach Jupiter, its ultimate scientific objective.

While it is near Venus, Galileo turned its scientific instruments, designed to observe Jupiter, its satellites and environment, toward the hot, cloudy world which is closest to Earth. Scientists watched as telemetry showed sensors being switched on and off and pointed in programmed directions, and the data being recorded on tape. Galileo's experimenters must wait until much later this year, when the spacecraft is close enough to Earth to play back the tape through its low-gain antenna, to analyze the data.

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