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Cassini’s Saturn Mission Goes Out In A Blaze Of Glory

An anonymous reader shares a report: Controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory sent a final command Friday morning to the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn. Not long after, accounting for the vast distance the message traveled, the order was received, putting the craft into a suicidal swan dive, plummeting into the ringed planet’s atmosphere. Flight Director Julie Webster called “loss of signal” at about 7:55 a.m. ET, followed by Project Manager Earl Maize announcing “end of mission” as the spacecraft began to break up in Saturn’s atmosphere. “Congratulations to you all,” Maize announced to applause. “It’s been an incredible mission, incredible spacecraft, and you’re all an incredible team.” With Cassini running on empty and no gas station for about a billion miles, NASA decided to go out Thelma & Louise-style. But rather than careen into a canyon, the plucky probe took a final plunge into the object of its obsession. Just how obsessed? Its 13-year mission to explore the strange world of Saturn went on nearly a decade longer than planned. It completed 293 orbits of the planet, snapped 400,000 photos, collected 600 gigabytes of data, discovered at least seven new moons, descending into the famed rings and sent its Huygens lander to a successful 2005 touchdown on the surface of yet another moon, Titan. Also read: Cassini’s Best Discoveries of Saturn and Its Moons.

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