NASA’s Cassini Begins Its Last Mission Earlier than Self-Destruction

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In 1997, the Cassini spacecraft left Earth. And 7 years later, he arrived at Saturn. Since then it has been orbiting the ringed planet. Properly, Cassini is now low on gas, and NASA has determined to complete the mission dramatically. Come September, Cassini will probably be submerged in Saturn. It would first perform what scientists count on their most fruitful work to this point. Cassini mission scientist Linda Spilker joins us now from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California Welcome to this system

LINDA SPILKER: I'm glad to be right here, Robert.

SIEGEL: Why end the mission this fashion?

SPILKER: We had many choices for easy methods to end the mission. However we knew that primarily based on the discoveries of Cassini, we didn’t need to threat working on two crucial moons: Enceladus, with its icy jets from the south pole and Titan. Each have oceans of liquid water beneath their floor. And Titan has lakes of liquid methane at its north pole.

In case there may very well be a doable atmosphere for all times, we needed to discover a approach to eliminate Cassini that may not threat contaminating these two worlds. So when taking a look at it from a scientist's viewpoint, hey, let's dive into the hole between the planet and the rings. After which in that ultimate orbit, dive into Saturn and finish the mission that means.

SIEGEL: Once we say that he’ll do a few of his most fruitful work on this final part of the mission, what is going to we study within the final months of Cassini that we have no idea?

SPILKER: Properly, as we get nearer to Saturn and in addition to the rings, we'll study much more in regards to the planet and the rings. For the primary time, we are going to get the mass of the rings. That can inform us, are the rings younger or outdated? We may also straight check the ring particles to seek out out what that little little bit of non-frozen materials may be. Then, after all, the planet itself – how is it structured? How deep do the winds go? The place does the magnetic subject start to generate? And the way lengthy is a Saturn day?

SIEGEL: You may have been with this mission from the start. After 20 years, what do you’re feeling firstly of the ultimate chapter?

SPILKER: Properly, it's a second of great pleasure to consider potential new discoveries. And I’m very proud to be a part of this unimaginable worldwide effort. Scientists from all around the world have been working at Cassini. And on the identical time, I really feel a way of unhappiness to comprehend that I'm going to say goodbye to this little spaceship that has returned these unimaginable information and say goodbye to my Cassini household.

SIEGEL: Have you ever discovered a beauty of Cassini, or have you ever discovered a whole bunch of small issues?

SPILKER: We now have discovered an incredible quantity of Cassini, and two issues particularly. That’s that this small icy moon – Enceladus, solely 300 miles extensive – has jets and plume of fabric popping out of those cracks within the south pole, an ocean of liquid water and the likelihood that maybe circumstances may be appropriate for Life

.

Then, after all, there may be the enormous world Titan, it has this thick environment that we couldn’t see till it really landed a probe, the primary human object to land on the floor of this distant world, after which used the radar To drill Via the clouds to see what Titan may seem like.

SIEGEL: Properly, thanks very a lot for speaking to us about what's occurring to Cassini.

SPILKER: I'm very glad to be right here.

SIEGEL: It's Linda Spilker, a scientist for the Cassini spacecraft mission, who will end her 20-year mission to Saturn in September.

(OCTOPUS PROJECT SONG SOUNDBITE, "KORAKRIT") Transcript supplied by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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