Cassini's End Viewed In Colorado: 'A Sad Moment, But A Fantastic Mission'

Cassini's End Viewed In Colorado: 'A Sad Moment, But A Fantastic Mission'

Mission control is quiet. "Cassini is now part of the planet it studied", Cassini's team said on Twitter Friday morning. For numerous scientists and engineers who worked on the mission, it was a defining part of their lives and careers to which they were passionately devoted. When the craft arrived, Saturn's northern hemisphere was emerging from winter. And with Cassini gone, the mood at JPL shifts into something like an Irish Wake, celebratory yet mournful.

The Cassini mission has been extended twice and finally used up the last of its rocket propellant this week. Maize told the story of a 6-year-old boy from Florida who sent a letter to JPL inviting staff to his end-of-mission party. "We will have it broadcast data back down to the very, very last minute".

"We call loss of signal", said spacecraft operations manager Julie Webster at 4:55 a.m. local time. When he explained to 5-year-old Liese why they were waking up so early to celebrate a spacecraft, the little girl started to cry.

Three other spacecraft have flown by Saturn - Pioneer 11 in 1979, followed by Voyager 1 and 2 in the 1980s.

It deployed the European Space Agency's Huygens probe, which plummeted through the haze of Saturn's moon Titan, landing and sending back the only photos of its weird surface.

One of Cassini's most important discoveries was the existence of a global watery ocean under the icy surface of Enceladus that could conceivably host life. Sorry Mars, but thanks to Cassini, Enceladus is going to hog those "Is There Life on..." headlines for the foreseeable future.

Cassini had its closest approach with Saturn's moon Titan on Monday, dubbed a "goodbye kiss" by the mission's engineers because it provided the gravity assist that sent the spacecraft on its final encounter with Saturn. This has been an incredible mission ... you're all an incredible team'.

It's not hard to find reasons for Cassini being one of the most, if not the most successful planetary science mission to date.

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The photo is by no means the best ever taken by Cassini - that's an incredibly tall order given the gorgeous photos the spacecraft has produced over the years - but it does have a poignancy that other images of Saturn do not.

The probe explored space for almost 20 years. Cassini finished its tour of the Saturn system with its Grand Finale, capped by Friday's intentional plunge into the planet to ensure Saturn's moons - particularly Enceladus, with its subsurface ocean and signs of hydrothermal activity - remain pristine for future exploration. The eye of the storm was 20 times larger than hurricanes that occur on Earth. And stay tuned for a sequel.

Cassini's legacy will live on through its 356 gigabytes of data collected, the 453,048 images taken, 3,948 scientific papers published, and most importantly, in the collective memory of people around the world who've enjoyed a deeper connection to the ringed beauty of our solar system.

"Every time we see Saturn in the night sky, we'll remember".

"In the words of our former governor here, 'We will be back, '" Zurbuchen said in Pasadena. And when we long to visit Saturn while we wait, there are nearly 500,000 spectacular images to gaze at on Cassini's website.

Inspired to learn more after flybys of Saturn by NASA's Voyager missions, the Cassini mission was created to be an worldwide effort that united NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. Like all exploration milestones, we must know where we've been in order to look ahead.

"There are times in this world when things just line up, when everything is just about ideal".

Jouchoux led the audience at LASP through a slide presentation on the Cassini mission, and couldn't resist flashing a quote attributed to him in a Space.com interview in 2004, claiming that the UVIS instrument "could work forever".

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