Saturn probe’s final mission meets fiery end
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 tumbled to its doom 930 miles above Saturn’s cloud tops.
Plummeting at 77,000mph, it took less than a minute to disintegrate into fragments and burn up.
Mission controllers at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory 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.
Nasa-backed space psychology research subjects walk across a lava field on a remote Hawaii volcano, where they have been living for eight months in isolation, on a study designed to understand the psychological impacts of a long-term mission to space. They are due to emerge from their Mars-like habitat tomorrow