Today, September 15, 2017, at 7:57 am, Eastern Standard time, the Cassini–Huygens spacecraft, known to friends as “Cassini,” slipped quietly into the atmosphere of Saturn and died a violent and beautiful death as it burned up in the gaseous layers of the sixth planet from our sun.
Cassini is survived by cousin Juno, currently orbiting Jupiter, and much more distant cousin New Horizons who is currently at a distance of 39.04 AU and is headed out past Pluto toward the edged of the solar system. Cassini is preceded in death by such great relatives as Galileo, Magellan, and V’ger.
Cassini was launched on October 15, 1997 in Cape Canaveral, Florida, by both proud parents, NASA and the European Space Agency. It was a simpler time of Presidential scandals and space travel. Cassini graduated from two Venus gravitational assists in 1999 and an additional Earth gravitational assist in 1999 with a degree of trajectory that pushed it past the Asteroid belt and a Jupiter fly-by. Cassini married itself to the gravitational pull of Saturn, the second largest planet in our solar system -and a heck of a violin player- on July 1, 2004, exchanging both F and G Rings.
After moving to a stationary orbit, Cassini began working its initial four-year mission to explore the Saturnian System, which included examining not just the planet and its weather patterns, but its multiple moons system, and of course, its breathtaking rings. Cassini even helped test aspects of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. Its mission was extended twice, due in no small part to its plutonium powered engine, and healthy lifestyle. During its thirteen year mission it has taken thousands of breathtaking shots of the gas planet, its moons, its rings, and even Earth.
Cassini soon welcomed its only child to the Saturnian System, the Huygens probe, which landed on the moon Titan. Huygens relayed hundreds of images of Titan’s icy surface, but an unfortunate data error meant that the young probe only transmitted half the amount of data it was meant to. Yet, its memory still lives on as the first spacecraft to ever land on Titan, and as the first spacecraft to complete the furthest landing from Earth ever made.
Cassini was an accomplished explorer and an amateur photographer. It was a dedicated and hard working probe who loved its work and was passionate about educating us on the wonders of Saturn and its mysterious moons. Cassini was an active and dedicated member of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, and often volunteered at the local Rotary Club.
A memorial service was held today at the NASA JPL Live Stream, with a small reception to follow at wherever people typically eat lunch every day. All were welcome to attend and celebrate the life of the Cassini–Huygens spacecraft. In lieu of flowers, please send letters to your local congressional representatives and senators to tell them why the mission of NASA is so important, and why it deserves more funding than it currently receives. Condolences and congratulations can be sent to www.nasa. gov. The family would like to thank all those who have been watching and enjoying the data and pictures of Cassini, and for all their years of support and wonder.
So long, Cassini, and thanks for all the memories. Rest in peace.