After a 20-year sojourn in the final frontier, at approximately 10:00PM AEST tonight, NASA’s Jet Propulsion laboratory lost contact with the Cassini spacecraft, which had plunged into Saturn’s atmosphere about an hour and a half prior, ending its 13-year exploration of the Saturn system.
“Maybe a trickle of telemetry left, but we just heard the signal from the spacecraft is gone, and within the next 45 seconds, so will the spacecraft. I hope you’re all deeply proud of this amazing accomplishment,” a project manager at JPL announced moments ago. “I’m going to call this the end of mission.”
Cassini’s date with death had been planned for months. The spacecraft only has a few drops of fuel left, and rather than risk allowing a dead hunk of metal to crash into one of Saturn’s potentially life-harboring moons, NASA decided to send its beloved spacecraft into the object of its decade-plus exploration. It beamed back data until it couldn’t any more.
In the hours leading up to its fiery demise, Cassini also sent back a final batch of images, captured in the last days of its mission. These are Cassini’s swansong.
A last look at Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Saturn. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Saturn setting on Cassini’s icy moon, Enceladus. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/Emily Lakdawalla
Ad astra per aspera, Cassini. We won’t forget about you.