See The Stunning Last Images Sent From NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft Before It Crashed Into Saturn

by 2 years ago

On October 15, 1997, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft was launched into space from Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard a U.S. Air Force Titan IVB/Centaur rocket. The Cassini-Huygens mission included flybys of Venus in April 1998 and July 1999, and Jupiter in December 2000 as it traveled seven years and over 2.2 billion miles of space to reach Saturn. The main objective of Cassini was to explore Saturn and the spacecraft did so marvelously, snapping 453,048 images since its mission Saturn mission began in 2014. Images revealed lakes and seas of methane on Titan, giant jets of water gushing from Enceladus, and so many extraordinary photos of Saturn’s curious rings. Cassini discovered six named moons, prompted 3,948 science papers to be published, and traveled 4.9 billion miles in total. On Friday, 7,275 days since it first launched, Cassini’s mission came to a fiery end when it purposely plummeted into the giant gas planet and burned up in the atmosphere.

“This has been an incredible mission, an incredible team,” said Earl Maize, Cassini’s program manager at mission control after Cassini’s signal was lost. “I’m going to call this ‘end of mission.’”

Cassini’s final descent was named the “Grand Finale” and the spacecraft traveling roughly 75,000 mph navigated in a gap between Saturn and its rings. For about 60 seconds, Cassini used the last of its rocket fuel to fire its thrusters, and plunge the spacecraft through Saturn’s upper atmosphere. Cassini’s last image during its crash course was taken at 3:59 p.m. ET on Thursday. This is the final photo Cassini transmitted before ending its mission.

This image shows where the spacecraft entered Saturn’s atmosphere.

Some of the final images sent by Cassini during its farewell tour.