Saturn probe’s fi­nal mis­sion meets fiery end

The Press and Journal (North-East) - - NEWS -

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

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