Space Shuttle Atlantis lifted off on its maiden voyage on 3 October 1985, on mission STS-51-J, the second dedicated Department of Defense flight. It flew one other mission, STS-61-B, the second night launch in the shuttle program, before the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster temporarily grounded the Shuttle fleet in 1986. Among the five Space Shuttles flown into space, Atlantis conducted a subsequent mission in the shortest time after the previous mission (turnaround time) when it launched in November 1985 on STS-61-B, only 50 days after its previous mission, STS-51-J in October 1985. Atlantis was then used for ten flights between 1988 and 1992. Two of these, both flown in 1989, deployed the planetary probes Magellan to Venus (on STS-30) and Galileo to Jupiter (on STS-34). With STS-30 Atlantis became the first Space Shuttle to launch an interplanetary probe.
Had Jupiter continued to gain weight, it would have grown ever hotter and hotter, and ultimately self-sustaining, raging nuclear-fusing fires may have been ignited in its heart. This would have sent Jupiter down that long, shining stellar road to full-fledged stardom. Had this occurred, Jupiter and our Sun would have been binary stellar sisters, and we probably would not be here now to tell the story. Our planet, and its seven lovely sisters, as well as all of the moons and smaller objects dancing around our Star, would not have been able to form. However, Jupiter failed to reach stardom. After its brilliant, sparkling birth, it began to shrink. Today, Jupiter emits a mere.00001 as much radiation as our Sun, and its luminosity is only.0000001 that of our Star. Imagine, a frigid, distant shadow-region in the far suburbs of our Solar System, where a myriad of twirling icy objects--some large, some small--orbit our Sun in a mysterious, mesmerizing phantom-like ballet within this eerie and strange swath of darkness. Here, where our Sun is so far away that it hangs suspended in an alien sky of perpetual twilight, looking just like a particularly large star traveling through a sea of smaller stars, is the Kuiper Belt--a mysterious, distant deep-freeze that astronomers are only now first beginning to explore. Makemake is a denizen of this remote region, a dwarf planet that is one of the largest known objects inhabiting the Kuiper Belt, sporting a diameter that is about two-thirds the size of Pluto. In April 2016, a team of astronomers announced that, while peering into the outer limits of our Solar System, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (HST) discovered a tiny, dark moon orbiting Makemake, which is the second brightest icy dwarf planet--after Pluto--in the Kuiper Belt. The findings of the two missions are presented in papers published on April 13, 2017, by planetary scientists with NASA's Cassini mission to Saturn and the venerable Hubble Space Telescope (HST). In one of the papers, Cassini scientists announced their discovery that a form of chemical energy life can feed on appears to exist on Enceladus. In the second paper, HST researchers report additional evidence of plumes erupting from Jupiter's moon, Europa, whose fascinating frozen crust of ice resembles a cracked eggshell. It has long been recognized by planetary scientists that beneath Europa's bizarre cracked shell of ice, there is a sloshing global ocean of liquid water.