Pi­o­neer­ing space­craft ends Saturn mis­sion with dra­matic dive

Cassini killed off in a ‘blaze of glory’ af­ter probe’s 13 years of ex­plo­ration

The Courier & Advertiser (Dundee Edition) - - NEWS - John von radowiTz Pic­ture: PA. Pic­ture: PA.

A pi­o­neer­ing space­craft that has trans­formed our knowl­edge of Saturn and its moons has ended its mis­sion with a spec­tac­u­lar sui­cide dive into the ringed planet’s at­mos­phere.

Amer­i­can space agency Nasa car­ried out the destruc­tion of Cassini to bring to a close what it called “a thrilling epoch” in space ex­plo­ration.

For 13 years the 22ft nu­clear-pow­ered probe had been gath­er­ing a trea­sure trove of im­ages and data from the Satur­nian sys­tem.

At 12.55pm UK time, all com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the craft was lost as Cassini fell to its doom 930 miles above Saturn’s cloud tops. It took less than a minute to dis­in­te­grate into frag­ments and burn up.

Mis­sion con­trollers at Nasa’s Jet Propul­sion Lab­o­ra­tory (JPL) in Pasadena, Cal­i­for­nia, clapped and hugged each other when the end of ra­dio con­tact was con­firmed.

Sci­en­tists talked of a “bit­ter sweet” mix­ture of emo­tions, both sad­ness at Cassini’s loss and in­tense pride in what they had achieved.

Cassini project man­ager Dr Earl Maize, who di­rected Cassini’s fi­nal mo­ments from the JPL con­trol room, said: “The Cassini op­er­a­tions team did an ab­so­lutely stel­lar job guid­ing the space­craft to its noble end.

“What a way to go. Truly a blaze of glory.”

Project sci­en­tist Dr Linda Spilker said: “Things never will be quite the same for those of us on the Cassini team now that the space­craft is no longer fly­ing.

“But we take com­fort know­ing that ev­ery time we look up at Saturn in the night sky, part of Cassini will be there, too.”

The de­ci­sion to kill off Cassini was taken be­cause the craft would soon run out of fuel and be­come im­pos­si­ble to steer.

Sci­en­tists feared a col­li­sion with Ti­tan or Ence­ladus, two of Saturn’s moons that in the past 10 years have shown a po­ten­tial to host sim­ple life.

Cassini above Saturn’s north­ern hemi­sphere.

Project man­ager at JPL, Dr Earl Maize, and op­er­a­tions team man­ager for the mis­sion, Julie Web­ster, em­braced af­ter the space­craft plunged into Saturn.

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