Today marks a sad and historic day in space exploration. After nearly 20 years of traveling and exploring our solar system, the Cassini space craft is no more. Earlier this morning, NASA sent the probe, which has been collecting data on Saturn and its moons for 13 years, into the atmosphere of that planet. As it plunged through the atmosphere, it dutifully continued to send back information, right up until it went offline, most likely burning up on entry into Saturn’s thin atmosphere.
Over the course of its mission, Cassini traveled some 5 billion miles (8 billion km) and gave us some of the most stunning looks at Saturn that we’ve ever seen. It also discovered numerous additional moons for the gas giant, and helped us to consider whether or not those moons might support life. The spacecraft took a closer look at Saturn’s famed rings, helped us examine its composition, and shared data about its atmosphere right up until it went silent. At 7:55 AM ET this morning, NASA confirmed that the little spacecraft that could was gone.
In an era where space travel and exploration is devalued, Cassini was a stunning success. Not only did it provide us with new information about our solar system, but it helped us to evaluate our own place in it. There are wonders to be found in our own galactic neighborhood and all we have to do is go looking for them. I am one of those people who believes man’s destiny is to move beyond our own little blue marble and out into the stars. It won’t happen in my lifetime, but missions like the one performed by Cassini will help make it a reality in the decades to come.
It is odd to feel sad over the demise of machine. But with Cassini’s passing it is an end of an era. And it may be some time before we see another project like this one. Godspeed little space probe.
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