Cassini’s Last Hurrah

This is getting to be a pattern.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has been bebopping out Saturn way for years now, collecting close up observations of the moons and rings, and, by the way, demonstrating that we do know how to build spacecraft (and software) that lasts for decades, out in the cold deeps, far from home.

Cassinni is now in its final stage, swooping lower and lower, sampling inside the innermost ring, until it finally falls into the atmosphere and is destroyed. This week the spacecraft completed its last close pass of a moon, Enceladus, cruising by as close as 5 KM, to collect high-resolution imagery.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft paused during its final close flyby of Enceladus to focus on the icy moon’s craggy, dimly lit limb, with the planet Saturn beyond (Image: NASA)

This year as seen the end of Rosetta, Dawn, New Horizons, and now Cassini. Shall we ever see their likes again?

There doesn’t seem to be much in the pipeline except yet another mission to Mars—maybe. It may be decades before there is so much new space exploration—quite possibly not in my lifetime.

Indeed, aside from Wier’s fictional Mars mission, the big space news is the privatization of low Earth orbit. This SpaceX launch/landing is all to the good (and, frankly, decades overdue), but cheaply launching telcom satellites is scarcely ground breaking space exploration.

It’s so sad to see humanity pull back and turn inward.


Space Saturday

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