20 year journey of Cassini comes to a close

16 September, 2017, 01:03 | Author: Brenda Erickson
  • The Saturn System Through the Eyes of Cassini (e-Book)

If you woke up this morning feeling a little down for a Friday, that might be because the entire scientific and space watching community is mourning the demise of NASA's incredible Cassini Saturn orbiter. It was there that Griffith astronomer E.C. Krupp and John Casani, then Cassini's project manager at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (if my memory is correct), gave a talk on the promise of exploring Saturn.

Cassini-Huygens travelled to Saturn via a circuitous route, using the gravity assist technique to receive boosts in speed from the Earth, Venus, and Jupiter, and taking in an asteroid, Masursky, along the way.

The Cassini craft disintegrated in the skies above Saturn early Friday.

As Cassini's mission ends, summer has arrived at Saturn's north.

"That final flyby of Titan. put Cassini on an impacting trajectory and there is absolutely no coming out of it", said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "I hope you're all as deeply proud of this wonderful accomplishment, congratulations to you all, this has been an incredible mission, an incredible spacecraft, and you're an incredible team, I am going to call this the end of mission", he added, to applause within the Mission Control room.

In August 2009, Cassini had the opportunity to view Saturn at equinox, a special time when the Sun sits directly in line with the planet's rings.

The spacecraft tumbled out of control while plummeting at more than 76,000 miles per hour (122,000 kph).

One of the gas-giant planets, Saturn has long fascinated earthbound viewers because of its stunningly precise rings of debris and ice encircling the huge place. It was the first probe ever to orbit Saturn and entered orbit in 2004.

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Evidence for subsurface oceans of water were discovered by Cassini inside both Enceladus and Titan, making them prime targets for future NASA missions.

Cassini snapped its "last memento photos" of the Saturn system Thursday.

The final plunge for Cassini closed out the "Grand Finale", 22 weekly dives between Saturn and its rings, something never before accomplished or even attempted by any spacecraft. The spacecraft traveled 4.9 billion miles (7.9 billion kilometers) during its mission, circled Saturn 293 times, discovered six moons and observed dozens more.

Cassini also spent much of its mission sending data on Saturn's moons back to NASA. For one last time, Cassini spread its wings and used its instruments to sample Saturn's atmosphere. "Who knows how many PhD theses are in that data?" It will take just a few minutes for it to be completely destroyed. "The spacecraft's final signal will be like an echo".

A computer screen in mission control displays mission elapsed time for Cassini minutes after the end of mission. Then, they burst into applause.

Earl Maize, left, and Julie Webster embrace after the spacecraft plunged into Saturn. The Washington Post reports her voice cracked with emotion while saying Cassini was a "perfect spacecraft", which did exactly what it was supposed to do.

"Cassini-Huygens is a classic example of a "flagship" mission, accomplishing tremendous science in many disciplines over many years", says Alfred McEwen, a professor of planetary sciences at the University of Arizona.

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