It all went more or less like NASA had intended. NASA's findings have shown that Saturn's moon Enceladus could have or had a habitable environment. But the agency didn't want to risk Cassini accidentally crashing into one of these moons and spreading around Earth microbes. The spacecraft revealed the structure of Saturn's rings and, by delivering the Huygens probe to the moon Titan, executed the first landing of a spacecraft in the outer solar system.
Still, it was an emotional time for everyone involved, as many have been working with this spacecraft for decades.
It took seven years to reach Saturn after launching from Cape Canaveral in Florida in 1997 and the original intention was for it to explore the planet and its moons for just three years.
NASA's Cassini probe is no more.
Cassini program manager at JPL, Earl Maize, left, and spacecraft operations team manager for the Cassini mission at Saturn, Julie Webster, right, embrace after the Cassini spacecraft plunged into Saturn, Friday, Sept. 15, 2017 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "I'm going to call this 'end of mission.'" His statement was met with applause in the control center.
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And even faced with imminent death, Cassini persevered. This last route took Cassini in the gap between Saturn and its rings, the closest the vehicle has ever come to the planet. Back in April, the spacecraft started a series of orbits that had the goal of looking in between and behind Saturn's rings. (NASA / JPL / ASI / University of Arizona / University of Leicester) One of the last pictures sent back by NASA's Cassini orbiter shows Titan, a smog-covered moon of Saturn, with its hydrocarbon lakes visible toward the top of the image. Cassini witnessed seasonal changes on Saturn, including a huge storm.
NASA's Cassini spacecraft has completed its mission by diving into Saturn.
Now, its final encounter with the ringed beauty, will be its demise.
On September 13 and 14, Cassini took a last look around the Saturn system's greatest hits, taking a color mosaic image of Saturn and the rings, a movie sequence of Enceladus setting behind Saturn, Titan and tiny moonlets in the rings that pull the icy ring particles around themselves to form features called propellers.
The USD 3.9 billion mission continued to transmit data back to the Earth till the last minute before it came apart and was burned up like a meteor in Saturn's atmosphere. Project officials invited ground telescopes to look out for Cassini's last-gasp flash, but doubted it would be spotted from a billion miles away.
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Many grounds telescoped were invited to witness the glorious event though spotting the explosion from the distance of a billion miles was nearly impossible.
During its journey, Cassini has made numerous dramatic discoveries. NASA predicted it would receive the final signal at 7:55AM ET, and wound up getting it about half a minute later than expected.
Stewart says it's bittersweet,"You know the sort of wake that you celebrate a good friend who lived a very long and fruitful life".
Before contact was lost, eight of Cassini's 12 scientific instruments were operating during the final plunge. The spacecraft slammed headlong into Saturn's atmosphere just hours ago, putting a fiery exclamation point on what has been a truly historic mission.
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