So Long Cassini And Thanks For All The Science

2017-09-16

The ending of one of NASA and the European Space Agency’s most successful ever missions was marked by a dramatic poignant silence as the radio signal ended at precisely 4:55:46 a.m. PDT (7:55:46 a.m. EDT) Friday morning, after NASA received the craft’s final transmission. After 13 years exploring Saturn and its many intriguing moons, Cassini ran low on fuel. In order to protect moons such as Enceladus, which has the potential to host life, the mission planners chose to have the craft plunge to a fiery death in the planet’s thick atmosphere. I don’t mind admitting to a wobbly chin as the as the signal flatlined.

“The signal from the spacecraft is gone,” announced a NASA flight controller from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “I’m going to call this the end of [the] mission.”

“This is the final chapter of an amazing mission, but it’s also a new beginning,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington, in a Sept. 15 statement. “Cassini’s discovery of ocean worlds at Titan and Enceladus changed everything, shaking our views to the core about surprising places to search for potential life beyond Earth.”

Video credit: NASA/JPL

“It’s a bittersweet, but fond, farewell to a mission that leaves behind an incredible wealth of discoveries that have changed our view of Saturn and our solar system, and will continue to shape future missions and research,” said Michael Watkins, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, which manages the Cassini mission for the agency. JPL also designed, developed and assembled the spacecraft.

Cassini’s final dive completes a series of 22 weekly “Grand Finale” dives between Saturn and its rings, a daring achievement never before attempted by any spacecraft.

“The Cassini operations team did an absolutely stellar job guiding the spacecraft to its noble end,” said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at JPL. “From designing the trajectory seven years ago, to navigating through the 22 nail-biting plunges between Saturn and its rings, this is a crack shot group of scientists and engineers that scripted a fitting end to a great mission. What a way to go. Truly a blaze of glory.”

This montage of images, made from data obtained by Cassini’s visual and infrared mapping spectrometer, shows the location on Saturn where the NASA spacecraft entered Saturn’s atmosphere on Sept. 15, 2017. The spacecraft entered the atmosphere at 9.4 degrees north latitude, 53 degrees west longitude.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, awaited the final transmission from the Cassini spacecraft as it plunged into Saturn’s atmosphere ending its 20-year voyage of discovery.

“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. “But, we take comfort knowing that every time we look up at Saturn in the night sky, part of Cassini will be there, too. Cassini may be gone, but its scientific bounty will keep us occupied for many years. We’ve only scratched the surface of what we can learn from the mountain of data it has sent back over its lifetime.”

Cassini may be gone, but there are of course new missions planned-new rovers to Mars, a trip to look more closely at Europa and you can bet we’re going to want to go back to Saturn, particularly Enceladus.

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  • Alot

    Its really cool that NASA goes to such lengths to avoid contaminating other worlds – especially seeing how America struggles to pass (or maintain) laws preventing the blatant contamination of their own water systems and ensuring tectonic stability -.-

    September 16, 2017 at 4:19 PM
    • Feiryred Alot

      Because space scientists acually give a shit? Or we wouldn’t do it. 🙂

      September 16, 2017 at 10:40 PM
      • Axhind Feiryred

        I think it has more to do with the fact that fucking up a Saturn satellite will not bring profit to someone. Geologists probably don’t want to drink contaminated water any more than the rest of us but profits are profits and to hell with everything else. Rich can afford to import clean water and they are the only ones that matter.

        September 17, 2017 at 7:10 PM
        • Feiryred Axhind

          Is NASA in charge of your water supply? Nope. Clean and safe water should be a right for everyone. It’s not rocket science. Space science however is.
          Don’t conflate the two, argue with your representatives instead

          September 17, 2017 at 7:54 PM
          • Alot Feiryred

            Hope your Republican party is out before someone finds a way to monetize crashing satellites into celestial bodies. If the time lines line up badly, you in for some awkward told-you-so’s.

            September 17, 2017 at 8:07 PM
          • Feiryred Alot

            I’m British……..

            September 17, 2017 at 8:31 PM
          • Alot Feiryred

            Apologies. Assumed all the references to NASA and your rocket science stuff aced you in America.

            September 17, 2017 at 8:51 PM
          • Feiryred Alot

            NASA doesn’t do all of the things, fabulous as they are. I bat for the other team…ESA baby ?

            September 17, 2017 at 9:22 PM
  • Daito Endashi

    “In order to protect moons such as Enceladus, which has the potential to host life, the mission planners chose to have the craft plunge to a fiery death […]”
    Can someone explain this to me? Surely Cassini is so small in comparison it couldn’t possibly impede the evolution of life on the moon?

    September 16, 2017 at 5:52 PM
    • You could introduce foreign bacteria into an ecosystem which either only consists of bacteria or contains life which would have no way to cope with foreign bacteria being introduced into its ecosystem. Think “War of the worlds” only played back to front with the colours inversed.

      September 16, 2017 at 6:43 PM
    • Feiryred Daito Endashi

      Planetary protection is why Curiosity cannot go near Recurring Slope Lineae on Mars (Where we found the water), its not clean enough-Mars 2020 will be we hope. The COSPAR rules have been in place for a LONG time http://w.astro.berkeley.edu/~kalas/ethics/documents/environment/COSPAR%20Planetary%20Protection%20Policy.pdf

      September 16, 2017 at 10:44 PM
      • Alot Feiryred

        A question then. Whats the protocol if anyone actually decides to start a colony on Mars? Do they bubble wrap the habitats and instruct the colonists to tuck all their excrement beneath their beds – forever?

        September 17, 2017 at 8:02 PM
        • Feiryred Alot

          Do you understand the word ‘sterilisation’?. Its really not difficult. Applying heat,just like Cassini diving into Saturn… Is quite effective we’ve found ? Other methods are available, but cheap and easy yes?

          September 17, 2017 at 8:36 PM
          • Alot Feiryred

            Short term yes. I find it hard to believe that a permanent colony would be able to encapsulate itself without ever leaking bacteria into the environment though. Single breach and it’s out there.

            September 17, 2017 at 9:00 PM
          • Feiryred Alot

            I wrote about planetary protection a while back, (search for it I’m typing on my tablet). Curiosity, cannot go look at RSL (Reccuring Slope Linea, where the water is) because it’s not clean enough. The next generation rovers will be subjected to a brain boggling amount of cleaning. If you can’t find my article, just google COSPAR. The paranoia is real. However, it has already been acknowledged that life exists on Mars, because we took it there (think Viking lander ect). We’d like to discern which is which…(There are bets riding on this incidentally, Balvenie in my case) Here’s a deal, my next column will be all about future missions, I just got back from the UK Astrobiology conference. There was quite a bit about this stuff, including a Mars retreival mission (rocks and alien poo…you never know ?). And lots of really odd stuff we’ve been testing… With that in mind, ask me questions ok? I love what I do ??

            September 17, 2017 at 9:57 PM
          • Alot Feiryred

            I remember seeing your article about planetary protection – cause I remember a really silly pun I may or may not have left in the comments section. Turns out I may not have read it properly though :S

            Biggest question mark I got out of this discussion is the fact I’ve never heard of the ESA. Not sure if its something that would be a disqus length comment or require something longer but it would be great to get an overview of the major organisations, countries or companies that actively put things into space. I’ve seen lots or random articles on singular cool things which happen but I don’t know anything about the state of our space industry (or key development players) as a whole. An overview on any level of detail (or vagueness) would be appreciated.

            September 18, 2017 at 1:19 AM
          • phuzz Alot

            The short version is that ESA is basically like NASA, but instead of representing just one country, it represents twenty-two.

            September 18, 2017 at 9:31 AM
    • Feiryred Daito Endashi

      Cassini was never designed for astrobiology, we certainly put it to work, as in flying through the plumes of Enceladus-but but having it crash there was never an option. If we want to find life? We have to do our best to ensure its native, not what we brought. 🙂

      September 16, 2017 at 10:47 PM
    • Daito Endashi Daito Endashi

      Thanks for the answers!

      September 17, 2017 at 6:58 AM