This week at the European spaceport of Kourou, in French Guiana, a tense air is breathed. For months a team of scientists, engineers and technicians have been preparing for the takeoff of the JUICE space mission: the most ambitious project to date to explore the moons of Jupiter and find out if any trace of life is hidden under its frozen oceans. «Each space launch is lived with a unique emotion. It does not matter if you have seen dozens of other missions take off. When the moment of truth arrives, you are as nervous as if it were the first time«explains the Spanish scientist Guillermo Monreal, one of the technicians who will be at the control table supervising the takeoff of this historic mission.

Monreal answers the call from EL PERIÓDICO from the European spaceport on the eve of the takeoff of the mission. «We have been preparing this launch for a long time. Each piece, each process, each step is reviewed one and a thousand times by the entire team. Space missions are a success shared by thousands of people», explains the engineer from Zaragoza. This space mission, in fact, has more than a decade gestating in various research centers of the European Space Agency (ESA). Each part of the project has been designed by teams of dozens of researchers. To give you an idea of ​​the magnitude of the mission, only at the control table there will be about 90 professionals controlling the takeoff of JUICE.

«Each piece, each process, each step is reviewed one and a thousand times by the entire team»

Final preparations for launching a mission It took no more and no less than ten hours. During this period, all the technical parameters of the mission are checked once again, such as whether all the parts are well connected and respond to the controls. The mission only takes off if the tests indicate that everything is working correctly. «When we start the countdown, we know exactly what we are dealing with during those hours of preparation«, explains Monreal. «At the beginning there is a lot of frenzy in the control room and you see everyone running around completing tasks. the last vTwenty minutes before takeoff there is absolute silence.. That is when you feel the real tension”, adds the engineer.

«Everything is calculated»

This scientist from Zaragoza has been working at the Kourou spaceport for five years now. He started in the team in charge of the ground systems (that is, the base that provides the necessary energy for the launch of a rocket) and now works as quality manager for the upper stage of rockets that are launched from the European base. «I’m in charge of checking the part of the rocket where the satellite is stored, which is the true protagonist of the mission,» he explains. «Everything is calculated to the millimeter. Each screw, each cable, each system has been assembled following a very strict protocol and has been reviewed by more than one person. This is not like the movies, there is no room for ‘improvisation’«adds the scientist.

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In the case of JUICE, the final assembly of the mission has been somewhat peculiar. Especially since, unlike other space projects, this ship has had to be assembled in completely sterile environments to avoid all kinds of contamination. «One of the objectives of this mission is to search for traces of life on Jupiter so that we can make sure that it left Earth totally sterile,» argues the engineer. «Beyond the well-known white rooms, for the assembly of this mission we have had to create inert environments with very specific conditions to avoid all kinds of contamination of the ship. This is how we make sure that if tomorrow JUICE finds an organic molecule on Jupiter it will not be a ‘souvenir’ that has been brought from the earth«, he comments.

«One of the goals of this mission is to look for traces of life on Jupiter so we’ll use that to make sure it leaves Earth completely sterile.»

The launch of this mission is also emotional because it is about the Penultimate flight of the European Ariane 5 generation rocket. These vehicles have been, until now, the most emblematic of the European space arsenal. In their almost three decades of history, these rockets have carried hundreds of scientific missions, telecommunications satellites and space probes of all kinds into space. «He was able to witness dozens of launches of Ariane 5, Europe’s quintessential rocket, and it excites me to think that we are reaching the end of its history,» Monreal comments. «lspeace missions are not just technical projects, they are also charged with emotion.«he adds as the countdown to JUICE’s takeoff completes.