NASA Cassini spacecraft, which had been observing Saturn, its rings and its moons for the past 13 years, ended its mission on Friday. The spacecraft was made to plunge into the planet’s atmosphere, getting vapourised on entry.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the United States’ space agency, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency, whose joint mission the spacecraft had set out for 20 years ago, decided to let Cassini self-destruct by plunging into Saturn after it began running out of fuel. There were fears that otherwise it might accidentally collide with one of Saturn’s moons, Titan or Enceladus, and contaminate them.
The grand finale of Cassini, as NASA called it, was inevitable as there was no way to refuel the spacecraft’s fuel tank, which had enabled its 13 years of exploration.
Cassini had begun its journey in 1997 and arrived at the sixth planet from the sun i.e. Saturn in 2004.
Apart from Cassini, three other spacecrafts flew past Saturn, but Cassini was the only one that managed to circle around Saturn and send back numerous photographs and data that helped scientists study the ringed planet.
After the remarkable 20-year journey, around 7:55 am (United States Eastern District Time), Cassini fell silent. Radio signals from the aircraft came to a sudden halt as the spacecraft hurtled into the planet it had been watching.
Cassini captured more than 453,000 images and travelled 4.9 billion miles in its 13-year journey.
Here are important milestones from Cassini’s mission.