Juno vs Sputnik for K12 Science and Technology


On Aug. 5, 2011, the Juno satellite was launched. Over the next five years, Juno would travel 1.7 billion miles to Jupiter at an astounding speed of 175,000 miles per hour. Solar energy powered the spacecraft. After arriving at its destination, Juno entered the magnetic force field that is Jupiter’s atmosphere. For the next 20 months, fueled by solar energy, Juno will orbit Jupiter 37 times. During its orbit, Juno will transmit data and images to planet earth. Traveling at the speed of light, it will take 48 minutes for the information transmitted from Juno to reach earth.

This astounding capstone in science and technology has been overshadowed by headlines about violence, the presidential primaries and international terrorism. The reaction on a distracted world and on K-12 education has been almost as silent as the billions of miles of dark space through which Juno spins.

In contrast, the launch of Sputnik on Oct. 4, 1957, by the former Soviet Union caused a national uproar, even though the accomplishment paled in comparison to the Juno launch.

Premier Nikita Khrushchev led the Soviet Union’s launch of the first artificial earth satellite. Sputnik traveled 43.5 million miles at 18,000 miles per hour. Sputnik was in orbit around the earth for three months. In its day, the launch of Sputnik was an amazing feat. It was the cause of the Sputnik crisis that resulted in the race to walk on the moon.

No less important was the radical transformation of K-12 science and math education. In some ways, the accomplishment of Juno might be attributed to the educational crisis ignited by the launch of Sputnik.

There, however, is no such excitement in K-12 education following the historical journey of Juno. To be sure, such is puzzlement.

This is so because of the enormous array of new knowledge that will be generated by the transmissions from Juno. Scientists look to learn about the differential development of Jupiter. How the magnetic atmosphere of the planet functions as an umbilical cord connecting Jupiter’s three moons is a lesson to be learned. So, too, is some understanding of the inner core of Jupiter. Juno is programmed to transmit three-dimensional views of the planet that will assist scientist in their search for water that might have supported some forms of life on Jupiter. And, Juno will study emissions from Aurora, one of Jupiter’s moons. Scientists hope for some insight into how Jupiter developed and what sustains the enormous planet. It is clear that the Juno satellite will generate huge volumes of new knowledge that will likely stimulate innovations in science, medicine and technology. Not the least of which will be the utility of solar energy and battery power.

Herein lies the challenge for K-12.

Surely, K-12 science, math and technology curricula are a candidate for reform following the knowledge generated by Juno’s expedition to Jupiter. It is reasonable to expect that teacher education programs would be updated to account for the lessons learned from the journey to Jupiter. At a minimum, every school and school district should strive to educate its students about the extraordinary capacity of solar energy to provide power to local communities, create new jobs and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Not since the industrial revolution has there been such a transformation. And, the implications of the new frontier being uncovered by Juno exceed the imagination. There is opportunity that will benefit all humanity. Every student must have access to the lessons learned by Juno if the potential of the exploration is to be realized in years to come.

It would be nice to drop some balloons and confetti on a parade celebrating the stunning achievement of Juno’s journey to Jupiter.

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