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Captain’s Log | September 15, 2017

The end is now upon us. Within hours of the posting of this entry, Cassini will have burned up in the atmosphere of Saturn … a kiloton explosion, spread out against the sky in a pyrrhic display of light and fire, a dazzling flash to signal the dying essence of a lone emissary from another world. As if the myths of old had foretold the future, the great patriarch will consume his child. At that point, that golden machine, so dutiful and strong, will enter the realm of history, and the toils and triumphs of this long march will be done.

For those of us appointed long ago to undertake this journey, it has been a taxing 3 decades, requiring a level of dedication that I could not have predicted, and breathless times when we sprinted for the duration of a marathon. But in return, we were blessed to spend our lives working and playing in that promised land beyond the Sun.

My imaging team members and I were especially blessed to serve as the documentarians of this historic epoch and return a stirring visual record of our travels around Saturn and the glories that we found there. This is our gift to the citizens of planet Earth.

So, it is with both wistful, sentimental reflection and a boundless sense of pride in a commitment met and a job well done that I now turn to face this looming, abrupt finality.

It is doubtful we will soon see a mission as richly suited as Cassini return to this ringed world and shoulder a task as colossal as we have borne over the last 27 years.

To have served on this mission has been to live the rewarding life of an explorer of our time, a surveyor of distant worlds. We wrote our names across the sky. We could not have asked for more.

I sign off now, grateful in knowing that Cassini’s legacy, and ours, will include our mutual roles as authors of a tale that humanity will tell for a very long time to come.

Solar System: Things to Know This Week

Like sailors of old, the Cassini mission team fondly thinks of the spacecraft as “she."  On April 22, she begins her Grand Finale, a spectacular end game—22 daring dives between the planet’s atmosphere and innermost rings. Here are 10 things to know about her Grand Finale.

1. She’s Broadcasting Live This Week

On Tuesday, April 4 at 3 p.m. EDT  (noon PDT), At Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Cassini team host a news briefing to discuss the mission’s Grand Finale.

Tune in Tuesday: youtube.com/nasajpl/live

2. She’s Powered in Part By … Titan

Cassini left Earth with less than 1/30th of the propellant needed to power all her adventures at Saturn. The navigation team used the gravity of Saturn’s giant moon Titan to change course and extend the spacecraft’s exploration of Saturn. Titan also provides the gravity assist to push Cassini into its final orbits.

More on Cassini’s navigation: saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/spacecraft/navigation/

3. She’s a Robot

Cassini is an orbiter that was named for 18th century astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini. She was designed to be captured by Saturn’s gravity and then explore it in detail with a suite of 12 powerful science instruments.

More on the Spacecraft: saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/spacecraft/cassini-orbiter/

4. She Brought a Friend to Saturn

Cassini carried the European Space Agency’s Huygens Probe, which in 2005 descended through Titan’s thick, perpetual clouds and made the most distant landing to date in our solar system.

More on Huygens: saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/spacecraft/huygens-probe/

5. She’s a Great Photographer

Your mobile phone likely captures dozens of megapixels in images. Cassini, using 1990s technology closer to one megapixel cameras, has returned some of the most stunning images in the history of solar system exploration.

Cassini Hall of Fame Images: go.nasa.gov/2oec6H2
More on Cassini’s Cameras: saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/imaging-science-subsystem/

6. She’s an Inspiration

Those great images have inspired artist’s and amateur image processors to create truly fantastic imagery inspired by the beauty of Saturn. Feeling inspired? There’s still time to share your Cassini-inspired art with us.

Cassini Inspires Campaign: saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/cassiniinspires/

7. She’s Got a Long History

Two decades is a long time to live in the harsh environment of outer space (respect to the fast-approaching 40-year-old twin Voyager spacecraft). Launched in 1997, Cassini logged a lot of milestones over the years.

Explore the Cassini Timeline: saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/the-journey/timeline/

8. She Keeps a Diary

And, you can read it. Week after week going back to 1997, Cassini’s adventures, discoveries and status have been chronicled in the mission’s weekly significant events report.

Read It: https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/news/?topic=121

9. She’s Got a Fancy New App

Cassini was the prototype for NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System 3-D visualization software, so it’s fitting the latest Cassini module in the free, downloadable software is the most detailed, elaborate visualization of any mission to date.

Fly the Mission - Start to Finish: http://eyes.nasa.gov/cassini

10. She’s Going Out in a Blaze of Glory

In addition to all the new information from 22 orbits in unexplored space, Cassini’s engineers reprogrammed the spacecraft to send back details about Saturn’s atmosphere to the very last second before the giant planet swallows her up on Sept. 15, 2017.

More on the Grand Finale: saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/grandfinale

Discover more lists of 10 things to know about our solar system HERE.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

vimeo

A few hours after I post this, the Cassini mission, which has been orbiting Saturn for 13 years and in space for 20, will come to an end with the spacecraft entering Saturn’s atmosphere and burning up. It has spent the last few months in a “Grand Finale” orbit - passing in-between the planet and the rings, producing measurements of the rings’ masses and incredible close up shots of everything. This video tells some of the story of the mission and this last stage of the mission.

Solar System: Things to Know This Week

We’ve been up close and personal with Saturn for 13 years now, thanks to the Cassini mission

From a tour of Saturn’s many enthralling moons to an incredible view of Earth through its rings, the planet continues to captivate the imagination. This week, here are 10 things you need to know about our fascinating ringed neighbor.

1. Strange Sighting

When Galileo Galilei was observing Saturn in the 1600s, he noticed strange objects on each side of the planet. He drew in his notes a triple-bodied planet system with ears. These “ears” were later discovered to be the rings of Saturn.

2. Solar System Status

Saturn orbits our sun and is the sixth planet from the sun at an average distance of about 886 million miles or 9.5 AU.

3. Short Days

Time flies when you’re on Saturn. One day on Saturn takes just 10.7 hours (the time it takes for Saturn to rotate or spin once). The planet makes a complete orbit around the sun (a year in Saturnian time) in 29 Earth years, or 10,756 Earth days. saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/news/2955/measuring-a-day

4. No Shoes Necessary

That’s because you can’t stand on Saturn—it’s a gas-giant planet and doesn’t have a solid surface. But you might want a jacket. The planet’s temperatures can dip to -220 degrees F.

5. Few visitors

Only a handful of missions have made their way to Saturn: Pioneer 11, Voyager 1 and 2, and Cassini-Huygens, which is there now. Since 2004, Cassini has been exploring Saturn and its moons and rings—but will complete its journey on Sept. 15, 2017.

6. Saturn’s Close-Up

This month is a great time to observe Saturn from Earth. Check out June’s “What’s Up?” video for a how-to guide.

7. Daring Dives

Saturn’s spectacular ring system is made up of seven rings with several gaps and divisions between them. From now until September, the Cassini spacecraft is performing a set of daring dives every week between the planet and the rings. No other mission has ever explored this unique region before, and what we learn from these final orbits will help us understand of how giant planets—and planetary systems everywhere—form and evolve.

8. Many, Many Moons 

Saturn has a total of 62 moons: 53 known moons, with an additional nine moons awaiting confirmation.

9. Curious Shapes 

Saturn’s moon Atlas looks like a flying saucer. See for yourself.

10. Would You Live on a Moon? 

Saturn can’t support life as we know it, but some of its moons have conditions that might support life. Ocean worlds could be the answer to life in space and two of Saturn’s moons—Titan and Enceladus—are on that list.

Want to learn more? Read our full list of the 10 things to know this week about the solar system HERE.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

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After 20 spectacular years exploring the Saturn system, Cassini came to a spectacular end (I’m sure), decending into Saturn’s atmosphere at almost 80,000 mph (128,000 kph).

Congratulations to NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Italian space agency (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana, ASI) for such a monumental achievement.

Goodbye, Cassini.

Tomorrow morning, the Cassini spacecraft will crash into Saturn, ending its nearly 20 year mission. We may well learn incredible things from this dive, but I still wish to mourn.

Cassini is one of the most revolutionary probes we’ve ever launched. It discovered 7 new moons of Saturn, was the first probe to ever orbit that planet, discovered potential environments for life (including liquid water) on moons of Saturn…. I could go on and on. 

But that’s not the only reason Cassini is important to me. In many ways, Cassini is responsible for my love of space and science. It was launched October 15, 1997 - two months before my birth. It reached Saturn in 2004, when both of us were six years old. It made a majority of its discoveries in the years that followed. 

I grew up with Cassini. Right when I was entering school, starting to figure out “hey, space is rad and we are learning so much from it,” Cassini was making history in that field. I followed Cassini’s discoveries my entire life. I remember things like the Day the Earth Smiled and the many new discoveries about Saturn’s moons. 

Cassini showed me that space, though distant, is not untouchable. It’s not destined to be a great unknown forever. With craft such as Cassini, we slowly carve out new knowledge our solar system and universe. And in doing so, we not only increase human knowledge, but inspire others to do so as well.

So thank you, Cassini. Thank you for not only discovering the incredible things you did, but for inspiring me and others to continue that mission. For giving humans another reason to look out at our universe and not see terrifying unknowns, but incredible potential.

Thank you Cassini, and goodbye.

Every now and then, when I’m watching some futuristic scifi show or another, I wonder how the people with all this amazing tech don’t just have their brain melt at the amazing times they live in. I know they’re fictional, but why are they able to be normal?

Then I remember the above photo, taken from the surface of Titan, a moon of Saturn. Our brains don’t melt. We just accept stuff and go on.

Life goes on. Humans go on. We adapt. It’s what we do. We’re Space Orcs, Space Australians. We adapt just like our ancestors adapted to electricity and the printing press and the wheel and fire.

Some day, our descendants may adapt to artificial gravity and hyperdrives and extraterrestrial life.

It’s what we do.

SHOUTOUT TO THE CASSINI PROBE AND THE CASSINI MISSION

It gave us some of the most iconic pictures of Saturn and it’s moons, and thanks to Cassini-Huygens we were able to see the surface of Titan and learn how a moon like Enceladus might be able to harbor life within its liquid oceans.

The Cassini probe finally plummeted into Saturn today after having its mission extended multiple times, observing the planet for 13 years.

Originally posted by escapecages

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Goodbye Cassini

These unprocessed images of the Saturn system were taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on Sept. 13, 2017. They are among the last images Cassini will send back.

Cassini–Huygens, or more commonly, Cassini, was a Flagship-class unmanned robotic spacecraft which was planned, built, launched, and operated in collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency, and was sent to the planet Saturn.

Cassini was the fourth space probe to visit Saturn and the first to enter its orbit. It studied the planet and its many natural satellites from when it entered orbit in 2004 to when it began its final suicide descent in September 2017.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Farewell, Cassini. Among today’s events of North Korea firing a missile and scaring the Japanese, and an explosion somewhere in Europe, you are the light of the day. Thank you for teaching us about Saturn and its moons. May your legacy, alongside all probes and such, inspire us to explore further. I salute you, and may you and your team become legends. Though I may not have known you well, I know you enough to acknowledge your legacy. Farewell, Cassini.