After 20 years, nearly 300 orbits and pioneering discoveries, the spacecraft plunges to its death in Saturn’s atmosphere
PASADENA, Calif. — Cassini went down fighting.
After 20 years in space and 13 years orbiting Saturn, the veteran spacecraft spent its last 90 seconds or so firing its thrusters as hard as it could to keep sending Saturnian secrets back to Earth for as long as possible.
The spacecraft entered Saturn’s atmosphere at about 3:31 a.m. PDT on September 15 and immediately began running through all of its stabilizing procedures to try to keep itself upright. The signal that Cassini had reached its destination arrived at Earth at 4:54 a.m., and cut out about a minute later as the spacecraft lost its battle with Saturn’s atmosphere.
“The signal from the spacecraft is gone, and within the next 45 seconds, so will be the spacecraft,” Cassini project manager Earl Maize announced from the mission control center at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. “I hope you’re all as deeply proud of this amazing accomplishment.