It's been a decade since NASA's Galileo spacecraft plunged into Jupiter's crushing atmosphere on Sept. 21, 2003, ending the mission that uncovered a wealth of information about our solar system's largest planet and a handful of its moons. But the mission's legacy lives on, because its discoveries not only changed how we view Jupiter, it changed the way we look at moons and asteroids, too.
PHOTOS: The Moons of Jupiter
Galileo was launched on Oct. 18, 1989, when the Jupiter-bound spacecraft was carried into orbit inside the space shuttle Atlantis' cargo bay. It was released that same day, propelled by a two-stage solid motor booster on its interplanetary path. But it didn't go straight to Jupiter. Galileo was the first mission to use a Venus-Earth-Earth gravity assist (VEEGA) trajectory to get to Jupiter using as little fuel as possible. The spacecraft flew past Venus on Feb. 10, 1990, and then passed the Earth twice – once on Dec. 8, 1990, and again on Dec. 8, 1992.
Finally en route to its target, Galileo didn't coast silently. It made the first close flybys of some small asteroids - including the asteroid Ida, which it passed on Aug. 28, 1993, and found that it has a moon, Dactyl. Also during its interplanetary cruise, Galileo became the first spacecraft to witness the collision of two objects in space with a front row seat to comet Shoemaker-Levy 9's plunge into Jupiter.