Cassini Huygens launched October 15th 1997, engaged in Saturn’s orbit in 2004, and it had been studying the planet and its moons since then. That's 19 years, 10 months, and 28 days of space exploration counting from the day I wrote this, and about a day away from the mission’s scheduled end on September 15th, 2017 when the spacecraft crashed into Saturn to avoid contamination of its moons for future exploration missions. Unfortunately for some of us this was an emotional goodbye, since there is a whole community of people from all over the world who love and follow these missions closely, share on the excitement of each image and discovery, and try to inspire others to join in the wonder.
Perhaps one of the most significant aspects of this mission was that Cassini discovered Saturn's moon Enceladus's geologic activity, and thanks to this, it has been speculated that the icy moon could support life. The spacecraft has sent a vast amount of scientific data, and images some of which are available to the public at nasa.gov/cassini.
The Cassini mission has also inspired the general public who sometimes show their love for the mission in the form of science art as well as image processing of raw data sent back to Earth by Cassini. These space exploration missions represent the hopes and inspiring fruits of collective hard work of many who dream of the good and advancement of our species. I do admit that it has been a bit hard for me to accept its ending, but my "grief" over Cassini is becoming a kind of bittersweet delight, because even though we don't want to see these missions over or give them up, it is impossible to look at something that gave us so much joy and wonder without being overwhelmed with happiness to have had it.
So the end is definitely sad, but the doors that Cassini opened for future space exploration, and the dreams it will inspire is something worthy of undying rejoice.
June of 2018 I was able to cross yet another milestone in my life, by giving myself a trip to California to visit all the remaining space shuttles. During that trip I was able to visit NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory as well as the California Science Center, and was greeted by an unexpected surprise-a life size model of Cassini.
Here's the photo I took of it, along with some Cassini facts.
Some Cassini facts:
Launch date: October 15, 1997
Launch vehicle: Titan IVB/Centaur
Saturn arrival date: July 1, 2004
Mission end date: September 15, 2017
Launch mass: 5,574 kilograms (6.1 tons), includes 2,442 kilograms (5,384 pounds) spacecraft and 3,132 kilograms (6,905 pounds) fuel
Total flight path: 5 billion kilometers (3 billion, 200 million miles)
Maximum speed: 15.5 kilometers per second (34,680 miles per hour) after Earth gravitational boost
Power: 700 watts of electrical power comes from three radioisotope thermoelectric generators
Communications: three antennas, operating at microwave frequency. The large white dish on Cassini is the 2-way high-gain antenna.