NASA's Cassini spacecraft is headed toward its September 15th, 2017 plunge into Saturn, following a final, distant flyby of the planet's giant moon Titan.
On Sept. 15, the NASA spacecraft will take its final, fateful plunge through Saturn's rings. Now, it's diving right in and capturing data deeper in Saturn's atmosphere than any spacecraft has ever ventured. The geometry of the flyby causes Cassini to slow down slightly in its orbit around Saturn. Its fuel exhausted, its missions to explore Saturn and its moons triumphantly fulfilled, the two-and-a-half-ton vehicle will burn up as it falls into the red planet's atmosphere.
NASA's spacecraft Cassini will conclude its 20-year voyage of space exploration in a terminal blaze of glory through Saturn's atmosphere on Friday. "This final encounter is something of a bittersweet goodbye, but as it has done throughout the mission, Titan's gravity is once again sending Cassini where we need it to go".
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"These final images are sort of like taking a last look around your house or apartment just before you move out", said project scientist Linda Spilker of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
The mission began in 1997, when Cassini was launched from Florida, and has cost $3.9bn (£3bn). During its time there, Cassini has made numerous dramatic discoveries, including a global ocean with indications of hydrothermal activity within the icy moon Enceladus, and liquid methane seas on another moon, Titan.
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's science mission directorate, said: "Cassini has transformed our thinking in so many ways".
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