Engineers and technicians have completed assembling the major components of the Saturn-bound Cassini spacecraft at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., to create the three-story-tall robotic space explorer.
Scheduled for launch a year from now from Cape Canaveral, Florida, Cassini is the largest and most sophisticated U.S. spacecraft ever built to explore a planet. In about two weeks, Cassini will be moved to JPL test facilities where the spacecraft will be subjected to acoustic, vibration, thermal and other tests in preparation for its upcoming launch and spaceflight.
The sheer size and technical complexity of the spacecraft is drawing crowds of employees and guests to view Cassini through the glass walls of the clean room at JPL's spacecraft assembly facility.
"Employees who've worked on planning the mission are excited to finally see the fruits of their labors," said Cassini Program Manager Richard J. Spehalski. "With all the major components put together, Cassini now actually looks like a spacecraft that's going to another planet. People seeing it for the first time are saying 'Holy smokes!'"
Scheduled for launch on October 6, 1997, Cassini will be the best-instrumented probe ever sent from Earth to another planet. When it arrives at Saturn in 2004, Cassini will explore the Saturn system in detail over four years in orbit, and drop a parachuted probe called Huygens to study the atmosphere and surface of Saturn's biggest moon, Titan. Titan is thought to have an environment similar to Earth's before life began.
Cassini is a joint mission of the NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The mission represents the contributions of thousands of people at contractor companies, universities and government facilites across the United States and in 16 European nations. The Cassini program is managed by JPL for NASA's Office of Space Science. The Cassini home page is at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/cassini.
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