Mission accomplished for Cassini as the probe crashes into Saturn

17 September, 2017, 02:09 | Author: Becky Perry
  • Smashing finale for successful NASA mission

NASA had obtained permission from Congress to build Cassini and a sister spacecraft, the Comet Rendezvous Asteroid Flyby (CRAF), on the basis that money could be saved by building two spacecraft using the same design (Mariner Mark II).

By pulling back the veil on Titan, Cassini has ushered in a new era of extraterrestrial oceanography.

The initial mission of Cassini spacecraft was meant to last 4 years but the spacecraft was so robust and the information it collected was so startling that NASA extended the mission twice.

As planned, data from eight of Cassini's science instruments was beamed back to Earth. CRAF was cancelled. Cassini was the survivor.

"It's a sad moment, but it's a fantastic mission, Cassini accomplished great things, it's sad but inevitable", said research scientist Fran Bagenal, quoted by CBS website on Saturday (9/16).

The spacecraft has produced 450,000 images and 635 gigabytes of data since it began probing Saturn and its 62 known moons in July 2004. "It will be at least a decade until we have another similar spacecraft, if serious work is started now", planetary scientist Seth Jacobson said in a statement. At this morning's press conference, project manager Earl Maize appeared a little teary when he said that Cassini had been a faithful companion all these years, but added this also is a time of "serenity" knowing that "we did what we needed to do".

The destruction of the craft went entirely to plan, Nasa said.

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Thanks to Cassini, scientists now believe that Titan and Enceladus are the ideal candidates for hosting extraterrestrial life in our solar system.

Most of these and other mission concepts are being mulled under NASA's #New Frontier program, which also includes proposals for Venus, the moon, and a comet sample return. The funding cap for a New Frontier mission is one billion dollars.

For now, getting new data about Saturn is done.

It's hard to say goodbye, not only for the entire Cassini team, but everyone who looks up at Saturn in the night sky.

The spacecraft made its 127th close brush with Titan, one of Saturn's moons, for the last time in April, before setting course for its last set of 22 orbits around the ringed planet before what is called the Cassini Grand Finale. The Huygens lander separated from Cassini and plopped down on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan shortly after the arrival.

Cassini left Lapetus as a huge mystery for scientists to resolve, as the Topographic ridge nearly exactly coincides with the moon's geographic equator.

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