NASA launches Lucy to explore Jupiter, gives nod to Beatles

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Lucy’s in the sky — with lab-grown diamonds.

NASA on Saturday launched a space probe named Lucy on a 12-year mission to explore Jupiter’s so-called Trojan asteroids and potentially find new clues of how the solar system was created.

The uncrewed spacecraft launched at 5:34 AM ET aboard an Atlas V rocket from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, sending it on a roundabout trek that’ll span nearly 4 billion miles.

The probe is named after the 3.2 million-year-old skeletal remains of a human ancestor uncovered in Ethiopia nearly a half-century ago. That discovery got its name from the 1967 Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” — which led to the space agency to send the craft soaring into space with the band’s lyrics and other luminaries’ words of wisdom imprinted on a plaque.

Lucy also carried a disc made of lab-grown diamonds for one of its science instruments.

NASA launched Lucy on a 12-year mission to explore Jupiter's Trojan asteroids for the first time.
NASA launched Lucy on a 12-year mission to explore Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids for the first time.
NASA/AFP via Getty Images

Beatles drummer Ringo Starr paid tribute to his late colleague John Lennon — credited for writing the song that inspired the trek – in a prerecorded video for the space agency.

“I’m so excited — Lucy is going back in the sky with diamonds. Johnny will love that,” Starr said. “Anyway, if you meet anyone up there, Lucy, give them peace and love from me.”

Over the next 12 years, Lucy will zoom by one main-belt asteroid and seven Trojan asteroids – debris from when the solar system was created billions of years ago — making it NASA’s first single spacecraft mission to explore so many different asteroids. 

“Lucy embodies NASA’s enduring quest to push out into the cosmos for the sake of exploration and science, to better understand the universe and our place within it,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a statement. “I can’t wait to see what mysteries the mission uncovers!”

NASA's Lucy spacecraft, atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket for a mission to study the Trojan asteroids in the outer solar system
Beatles drummer Ringo Starr a prerecorded video message for the space agency prior to the launch.
REUTERS/Thom Baur

Lucy sent its first signal to Earth at 6:40 a.m. The spacecraft is now traveling at roughly 67,000 mph on a trajectory that will orbit the Sun and bring it back toward Earth in October 2022 for a gravity assist.

The $981 million mission is the first to target the Trojan asteroids, some of which precede Jupiter in its orbit and others that trail it.

Lead scientist Hal Levison of Southwest Research Institute said there’s essentially no chance that Lucy will get walloped by asteroids while zooming by its targets because they’re mostly scattered far from one other.

NASA is planning another mission next month that takes a page out of the action flick “Armageddon.” The agency is set to launch a spaceship to wallop an asteroid’s moon  – practice just in case Earth ever has a deadly rock headed its way.

With Post wires

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