Milestones in Cassini's stellar 20-year journey

Cesar Mills
September 17, 2017

"We always knew it would have to end sometime, but that's such a hard thing to do with a spacecraft that's done so much, as Cassini has done".

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA designed, built and operated Cassini in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI).

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

According to scientists, the final set of observations made by Cassini during the last few days of its tour of Saturn are expected to offer new insights about the plant's formation and evolution, as well as the processes occurring in its atmosphere.

Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said that Cassini's discovery of ocean worlds at Titan and Enceladus changed everything and shooked their view to the core about surprising places to search for potential life beyond Earth.

The decision to end the mission was made because the probe would soon run out of fuel and become impossible to steer. ESA built the Huygens probe that separated from Cassini and flew down through the haze that surrounds Saturn's intriguing moon Titan, providing awesome images and data about the atmosphere and surface.

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.

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"To the very end, the spacecraft did everything we asked", he added, according to DPA. NASA's revolutionary Cassini spacecraft astonishingly discovered the presence of liquid water as well as active Chemistry on Titan and Enceladus thus hinting towards the possibility of life on those moons. The funding cap for a New Frontier mission is one billion dollars.

It was a 20-year voyage from Earth to Saturn, and it finally ended early this morning - Earth time - when the Cassini spaceship burned up in the atmosphere of the giant planet.

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.

Cassini has been exploring Saturn and some of its moons, making discoveries along the way.

And researchers say that one of Cassini's most lasting legacies will be as an argument for going back to see Saturn and its moons.

"Things never will be quite the same for those of us on the Cassini team now that the spacecraft is no longer flying", said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at JPL.

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