HARTFORD -- A NASA space mission with a 20 year life span is coming to an end this year, with the probe crashing into the planet Saturn. It’s all for a good reason, and it may help out humanity in the future.
They’re calling it the "grand finale."
The Cassini space probe has been orbiting Saturn for many years now, taking some amazing photos and teaching us so much about the ringed planet and its 62 moons. But it’s almost out of fuel, so its lifetime is quickly coming to an end. Might as well go out with a bang.
On September 15 of this year, Cassini will dive into Saturn's atmosphere, becoming crushed and vaporized in the extreme pressure of the second-largest gas planet in our solar system.
This probe has been one of the most successful that NASA has ever launched. It left Earth back on October 15th, 1997, and has been teaching us ever since. It has taken up close images of Saturn's rings, and even deployed a probe that landed on its moon titan back in 2005. It all worked out so well, as the Jim Green. Director of NASA's Planetary Science Division explains.
"What a spectacular end to a spectacular mission. You know, I feel a little sad in many ways that Cassini’s discoveries will end but I’m also quite optimistic that we’re gonna discover some new and really exciting science as we probe the region we never probed before," said Green.
In its final effort, the spacecraft will take its death dive into Saturn for a noble reason so it won’t accidentally crash-land on one of Saturn's moons and contaminate that world with bacteria from Earth.
If that were to happen, and we were to find life on that moon eventually, we wouldn’t know for sure if it was put there by Cassini or if it happened naturally. So in a way, Cassini dying a fiery death is a way to protect ourselves from future confusion. Until then, Cassini will continue to orbit extremely close to Saturn, taking amazing photos that are all available on NASA's website.