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Galileo Spacecraft Nears Fiery End - 2003-09-14

NASA plans to plunge its Galileo spacecraft into the planet Jupiter next week, ending a productive 14-year mission.

The spacecraft's on-board computer will steer it into Jupiter's crushing atmosphere next Sunday. The choreographed crash is meant to prevent the robotic explorer from contaminating Jupiter's icy moon Europa with earthly bacteria.

NASA officials have lauded Galileo's successes, saying the explorer has made discoveries about asteroids, a fragmented comet and the four largest moons of Jupiter.

The spacecraft ceased operations in late February after scientific data from its tape recorder was played back a final time. Galileo was originally deployed from the Space Shuttle Atlantis in 1989.