Fiery end for Nasa mission to Saturn as spacecraft incinerates
‘Truly a blaze of glory’
THE Cassini mission to Saturn has ended in a blaze of glory.
After 13 years in orbit, the spacecraft yesterday plummeted into the planet’s atmosphere at 77,000mph and burnt up in less than a minute.
Scientists at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, hugged each other as one of the agency’s most successful missions ended.
Cassini, roughly the size of a delivery van, transformed knowledge of conditions on Saturn and discovered seven of its moons, sending back huge amounts of data to Earth. One of its biggest discoveries came earlier this year when it revealed strong evidence for the possibility of alien life.
It found hydrogen on Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus, which, along with an ocean under its surface, may provide the main building blocks for life.
The unmanned craft had to be destroyed because it had run out of fuel and risked crashing into Enceladus or one of Saturn’s other moons, Titan, potentially contaminating their surfaces with bugs from Earth.
Radio contact was lost at 12.55pm yesterday as Cassini was torn apart over Saturn’s cloud tops.
Earl Maize of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said: ‘What a way to go – truly a blaze of glory.’