This Week at NASA: Farewell Cassini, New ISS Crew and More

This Week at NASA: Farewell Cassini, New ISS Crew and More

According to scientists, the final set of observations made by Cassini during the last few days of its tour of Saturn are expected to offer new insights about the plant's formation and evolution, as well as the processes occurring in its atmosphere.

As Cassini plunged into Saturn, its sensors experienced the first taste of the planet's atmosphere, sending critical information to Earth until it disintegrated. The image, which was taken using Cassini's wide-angle camera at a distance of 634,000 kilometres from Saturn, shows the planet's night side - lit by reflected light from the rings - and the location at which the spacecraft later entered Saturn's atmosphere.

But after 13 years exploring Saturn and its moons, Cassini was running out of fuel, and mission planners feared it could crash onto one of those possibly life-sustaining moons and contaminate it with hitchhiking microbes from Earth.

Cassini, NASA's spacecraft created to obtain in-depth knowledge of Saturn and its surrounding bodies plunged into a choreographed death dive into the planet's atmosphere yesterday on 15 September 2017.

Team members have already said their goodbyes, but will raise glasses in a final salute.

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Launched in 1997, the 3.26-billion-U.S. -dollar Cassini-Huygens mission has been touring the Saturn system since arriving at the sixth planet from our sun in 2004.

"It was exactly those data that led me into science, growing from a young student to an established researcher", planetary scientist Cui Jun, who started to work on the Cassini data as early as 2006, told Xinhua. When it did, the radio waves that engineers were watching live dropped off, as the equipment required to send them back to Earth burnt up.

After the remarkable 20-year journey, around 7:55 am (United States Eastern District Time), Cassini fell silent. "We always knew it would have to end sometime, but that's such a hard thing to do with a spacecraft that's done so much, as Cassini has done". My students and myself have at least five papers done with the Cassini data, to be submitted later this year.

A preview of the "Grand Finale" was presented in this cinematic video produced by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, published on April 4, 2017. At this morning's press conference, project manager Earl Maize appeared a little teary when he said that Cassini had been a faithful companion all these years, but added this also is a time of "serenity" knowing that "we did what we needed to do". It talks back to us and gives us data.