Team members reflect on what has made the NASA/ESA Cassini mission such an epic journey -- the extraordinary spacecraft, tremendous science and historic international collaboration.


One billion miles away... the Cassini spacecraft approaches its end of mission at Saturn, a story over three decades in the making

Linda Spilker: When I first started working on Cassini my daughter Jennifer had just started kindergarten. And now she is married and has a daughter of her own. I worked on the Cassini project for almost 30 years. And that's an entire Saturn orbit. Part of Cassini's success is really the tremendous international collaboration.

Earl Maize: We had 3 space agencies contributing to this. NASA from the United States, ESA--the European Space Agency, and Agenzia Spatziale Italiana, the Italian space agency, all contributing hardware to this mission.

Julie Webster: The beauty of Cassini is the design. It's the largest outer planetary spacecraft ever built. Twelve different instruments brought from all over the United States and Europe. The Huygens probe built by the European Space Agency. When you put all that together it's just a monumental machine.

Title: Cassini launch October 15, 1997

Mission Control: 3-2-1- and liftoff of the Cassini spacecraft on a billion mile trek to Saturn!

[rocket roars]

Title: After a seven-year journey Cassini provided scientists with the first-ever in-depth study of Saturn. Uncovering the mysteries of its rings, atmosphere and moon system. And capturing some of the most stunning images of the ring world.

Spilker: We turned the Cassini cameras down to look at the rings, revealing them in a way we had never seen them before. I remember coming back to JPL early in the morning just so I could be there and watch those pictures one by one come down. And I felt like I could almost reach out and touch the rings that were right there. We basically tried to carry in our tool box everything you could think of to explore the Saturn system.

Maize: We had been collaborating with the Europeans ever since launch to make sure that we had everything right for Huygens. The Huygens probe was dropped onto Titan. These are images from a billion miles away [chuckles] on the surface of Titan. It's just exhilarating. There were boulders. There were pebbles. There's a dry lake bed. And I still get goose bumps just talking about it.

Webster: After everybody started getting their science the beauty of what I saw in Cassini was they started collaborating with each other and saying "I have a picture of this part of Titan--what does your picture look like?" you know.

Spilker: Looking back at what we were plannning to do in those first 4 years, we've gone so far beyond that!

Webster: We basically explored the whole solar system contained within the Saturnian system.

Maize: We remapped our investigations to concentrate on the questions that Cassini raised. The fact that there's interplanetary dust raining in on Saturn. And that collection of icy satellites and moons. The fact we found subsurface oceans on Enceladus, which surprised everyone.

Spilker: Two of our instruments actually sampled the plume of Enceladus as we flew through--tasting the gas, measuring the particles in a way that we hadn't planned.

Cassini has changed the paradigm of where we might look for life. That will be one of her legacies.

Maize: Thirteen years of exploring Saturn--It really is just a... just an awesome mission.

Title: Cassini's Grand Finale

September 15, 2017

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