MONDAY, APRIL 11, 2011
Engineers and scientists eagerly unpacked the Juno spacecraft from its shipping crate Saturday, kicking off nearly four months of launch preparations before the $1 billion mission is shot toward Jupiter this summer. Read our full story.

We also took these photos as Juno was unpacked after its cross-country journey.

1700 GMT (1 p.m. EDT; 11 a.m. MDT)
Another truck convoy transported the Juno spacecraft to its processing clean room just outside the Kennedy Space Center overnight, signaling the start of final assembly and launch preparations.

Plans call for the container to be opened and the spacecraft unwrapped Saturday, and processing will begin Monday. The probe will be powered up later in the week to begin functional testing.

0401 GMT (12:01 a.m. EDT; 10:01 p.m. MDT Fri.)
More pictures show Juno being removed from the C-17 cargo plane after arriving in Florida.

And these photos give a perspective on what it's like in and around the immense C-17 cargo plane that delivered Juno to Florida.

2355 GMT (7:55 p.m. EDT; 5:55 p.m. MDT)
Greeted by the pinkish hues of dusk, the C-17 cargo plane has touched down at the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center. Stephen Clark filed this update in flight:

Cruising seven miles over America's heartland, an Air Force C-17 cargo plane usually employed to support combat operations is gracefully hauling a spacecraft destined for Jupiter, where it will probe the giant planet's solid core, turbulent atmosphere and powerful magnetic field.

Carrying about 30 people, including the Air Force's five-man crew, the C-17 Globemaster took off from Buckley Air Force Base outside Denver at about 2045 GMT (4:45 p.m. EDT; 2:45 p.m. MDT) on the way to the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The estimated flying time is a little over three hours.

Juno is boxed up inside a specially-built crate that keeps the spacecraft clean and contamination-free from the time it left its clean room at Lockheed Martin in Denver until it enters the Astrotech processing facility in Titusville, Fla.

The box has carried Lockheed Martin spacecraft for more than a decade, beginning with the Cassini mission's propulsion module that launched to Saturn in 1997.

The container is tailor-made for the C-17, with the top of the box reaching just inches away from the ceiling of the airplane's spacious pressurized cargo hold. The outer shell of the fuselage is exposed inside, displaying a maze of cables, pipes and even the structure of the plane's wing.

Inside the canister, Juno is attached to an analog of the payload attach fitting, the adapter that will connect the craft to the Atlas 5 rocket during launch.

All the cargo inside the plane is tied down with chains and tethers to prevent the sensitive flight hardware from moving around in flight.

Like clockwork, engineers check on the environment inside the container to make sure Juno is comfortable. The box is connected to a nitrogen purge unit to cleanse the atmosphere inside, so workers also measure the atmosphere in the pressurized cabin to ensure no dangerous nitrogen fumes are leaking.

The C-17 often carries tanks, other military ground vehicles, troops, medical evacuations, and even the President's limousine.

In the cockpit 35,000 feet over Missouri, Capt. Brent Anderson, the mission's command pilot, tells me Juno ranks near the top of the list of the most interesting payloads he's ever carried.

The view from the cockpit is expansive. Panoramic and overhead windows offer an unparalleled view of what's ahead and above. Clouds stream by at nearly 500 mph, and the sky above is dimmed to a navy blue color at this air-starved altitude.

Lockheed Martin and NASA officials are seated along each sidewall of the aircraft reading newspapers and catching up on work during the flight. Unlike a commercial airliner, there are no seats in the middle of the main cabin.

There's pizza on-board if anyone's hungry, but the Air Force doesn't accept airline drink coupons.

1957 GMT (3:57 p.m. EDT; 1:57 p.m. MDT)
We'll be leaving Colorado soon and will be unable to update en route to Florida. We will post more updates and pictures this evening.
1952 GMT (3:52 p.m. EDT; 1:52 p.m. MDT)
We have posted up-close snapshots of Juno being hoisted inside the C-17 cargo plane a few minutes ago.
1920 GMT (3:20 p.m. EDT; 1:20 p.m. MDT)
The Air Force crew just carefully winched the Juno spacecraft inside the C-17 cargo plane in front of a crowd of military and Lockheed Martin officials.

It will take about three-and-a-half hours to fly from Colorado to Florida. We will not have Internet access in flight, so check this page this evening for an update from Kennedy Space Center.

1825 GMT (2:25 p.m. EDT; 12:25 p.m. MDT)
Juno's high-gain antenna and some ground support equipment have been placed into the C-17 cargo plane. Engineers are now working on loading the 13,000-pound crate containing Juno itself.

Capt. Brent Anderson, the command pilot for today's mission, says the weather en route from Buckley Air Force Base to Kennedy Space Center looks good. There's just a chance of isolated showers along the flight path, he said.

The aircraft for today's flight comes from the 437th Airlift Wing at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina. The C-17 carries a crew of five, including pilots, loadmaster and maintenance personnel.

The crew consists of airmen from the 15th and 16th Airlift Squadron and the 437th Maintenance Squadron, according to Alexander.

The majority of this aircraft's missions occur overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan and parts of Africa.

"This is definitely something out of the ordinary for us, but it's nice to be trusted with this job," Anderson said on the tarmac as his cargo was winched inside the C-17 Globemaster.

The aircraft flew into Buckley on Wednesday night to prepare for the special mission.

"We're on a tight timeline to get this down to Florida due to the possible government shutdown," Anderson said. "But it needs to be done very methodically because breaking something would be unacceptable."

1620 GMT (12:20 p.m. EDT; 10:20 a.m. MDT)
Juno has arrived at Buckley Air Force Base for loading aboard the C-17 cargo plane over the next few hours. The four-engine aircraft is already parked on the tarmac with its cargo bay door open.
1606 GMT (12:06 p.m. EDT; 10:06 a.m. MDT)
Check out photos of Juno's departure from the Lockheed Martin plant this morning.
1525 GMT (11:25 a.m. EDT; 9:25 a.m. MDT)
TRANSPORT UNDERWAY. Packed inside a specially-buit shipping container, NASA's Juno spacecraft just left the Lockheed Martin facility where it was built over the last few years.

A crowd of employees and well-wishers gathered outside the clean room where Juno was put together and tested. Officials briefed participants on safety issues and travel plans just before the spacecraft was rolled out of the clean room this morning.

"We are so ready," one official said just before Juno appeared from the clean room.

About a half-dozen vehicles are getting a police escort from two Douglas County sheriff's squad cars. They will ensure the $1 billion probe makes it through traffic on freeways and highways in the Denver metro area.

Juno is being pulled by an 18-wheeler with a flatbed trailer. The craft's high-gain communications antenna is being towed by another truck.

Lockheed Martin is shipping Juno in three pieces: the primary spacecraft, the communications antenna and its three large solar arrays. The fully-assembled probe can't fit inside the Air Force C-17 cargo plane that awaits the convoy at Buckley Air Force Base in suburban Denver.

Sensors on-board the spacecraft container will log bumps on the overland journey, which stretches about 39 miles. The convoy will reach a peak speed of about 65 mph.

All the vehicles are linked via radio to discuss the trip's progress.

The trailer Juno is carried on measures about 75 feet long and more than 14 feet tall. The convoy has an oversized load permit to travel on public roads.

Light-to-moderate winds are forecast this afternoon as crews load the spacecraft aboard the C-17.

The last step before Juno departed was loading several gallons of diesel into a generator on the trailer carrying the satellite. The generator powers a heating and ventilation unit to control the environment inside the ultra-clean box.

"Hopefully, we won't need to run it," said Eric Roberts, chief of operations for the transportation of Juno. "It's just for temperature control. The weather looks like it's going to be pretty cooperative. But in the event it gets too cold or too hot, or even if the humidity levels get too high, we will want to keep an eye on the spacecraft."

The spacecraft is also hooked up to a nitrogen purge system to keep its sensitive instruments pristine.

"All of those sensors are under constant purge," Roberts said.

Officials can constantly monitor the temperature, humidity and dew point inside the box to ensure Juno is kept within environmental standards.

Leaving the confines of a Lockheed Martin factory tucked into Colorado foothills, NASA's Juno spacecraft will fly to Florida aboard a U.S. Air Force cargo plane Friday to start preparing for launch to Jupiter in August.

Spaceflight Now's Stephen Clark will be embedded with the Lockheed Martin team during the day-long transport operation, beginning early Friday with departure from the company's facility on the outskirts of Denver.

The spacecraft will be trucked along Denver freeways to nearby Buckley Air Force Base, where a C-17 cargo plane awaits to take on Juno and more than 25 engineers and managers for the three-and-a-half hour flight to the space shuttle landing strip at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Once in Florida, the craft will be convoyed Friday night to the Astrotech processing facility in Titusville, just outside the KSC gate.

Juno is packed inside a tightly-sealed shipping crate designed to keep the spacecraft in pristine condition while traveling on the road and inside the C-17 aircraft.

Check out a photo gallery showing the spacecraft's transportation canister being lowered on a trailer Thursday afternoon at Lockheed Martin's Waterton Canyon facility in Denver.

Juno is scheduled to blast off Aug. 5 on an Atlas 5 rocket. It will take five years for the craft to reach Jupiter, where it will investigate the giant planet's atmosphere, intense magnetic field and study its polar regions for the first time.

The $1 billion mission will last at least one year at Jupiter, circling the planet 32 times while running on ultra-efficient solar panels spanning 66 feet across. Its most sensitive electronics will be locked inside a titanium radiation vault to survive the harsh, computer-killing space environment around Jupiter.

Juno's three solar wings were shipped to Florida in mid-March via truck, according to Eric Roberts, chief of operations for the mission's assembly, test and launch operations phase.

The six-sided spacecraft and its main high-bandwidth communications antenna will be boxed up separately for the C-17 flight Friday.

Check this page Friday for behind-the-scenes updates and photos as Juno takes off for its launch site.