Galileo - the Astronomer, the Spacecraft, and the Satellite Navigation

What's in a name? It's Galileo!

The Galileo spacecraft mission and the Galileo satellite navigation projects are named after Galileo, founder of classical physics.

Galileo the Astronomer in a Nutshell

Galileo Galilei (b. Feb. 15, 1564, Pisa, Italy - d. Jan 8, 1642, in Arcetri, near Florence, Italy), was an Italian scientist - physicist and astronomer - founder of classical physics, and telescope inventor.

He was a professor at Pisa, who later moved to Padua and then to Florence. While studying medicine and through a hanging lamp in Pisa Cathedral, he deduced the formula for the swing of a pendulum. He later studied the laws of falling bodies, disproving Aristotle's view that the rate of fall is proportional to the weight.

Galileo's work on the three laws of motion was important although it was Isaac Newton who formulated them mathematically. He also discovered the parabolic flight path of projectiles. His work on astronomy followed his invention of the telescope, which which enabled him to discover sunspots, lunar craters, Jupiter's satellites, and the phases of Mercury.

In Sidereus Nuncius (1610), Galileo announced his support for the Copernican view of the universe, with the earth moving around the sun. This was declared a heresy by Pope Pius V. In Dialogo Sopra i Due Massimi Sistemi del Mondo (1632), he further defied the Pope by making his views more explicit. At the age of 70, he was brought before the Inquisition. In a public recant, he was said to have muttered: "Eppur si muove" which means "Even so the earth does move." Galileo was silenced by the church authorities for his remaining years.

[Image: Galileo Spacecraft Orbiter. NASA. Public Domain.]

Galileo Spacecraft Launch

On October 18, 1989, the Galileo spacecraft project was launched by the U.S.  The significance of this mission: it greatly improved our understanding and perception of the Solar System.  On this epic voyage, Galileo the spacecraft observed a comet collision, became the first craft to visit an asteroid or orbit Jupiter, and provided invaluable new data about the giant planet and its moons. The mission underwent its own challenges as it was not possible to put enough fuel on the five-meter aircraft to go straight there. Instead, Galileo was to slingshot once around Venus and twice around Earth, enough to gain momentum for the journey to keep going.

Galileo Satellite Navigation

Project Galileo is a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) built by the European Union (EU) and European Space Agency (ESA). One of its aims is to provide a high-precision positioning system on which European nations can rely independently from the U.S. GPS, Russian GLONASS, and the Chinese Compass systems. In December 2010, EU ministers voted Prague, Czech Republic, as the headquarters of the Galileo project.

It's Galileo!

The two projects have been enormous undertakings that carry a worthy name, that of Galileo, founder of classical physics, who worked tirelessly on forces and motion, improved the telescope, and in time, discovered the largest moons of Jupiter.

Image Credit:

Galileo's arrival at Jupter. en. / public domain.  


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