NASA’s Cassini spacecraft faces one last perilous adventure around Saturn.
Early Saturday, Cassini will swing past Saturn’s mega moon Titan. “That last kiss goodbye,” as the project manager calls it, will put Cassini on a path no spacecraft has gone before — into the gap between Saturn and its rings. It’s treacherous territory. Even a speck from the rings could cripple Cassini, given its velocity.
Cassini will make its first pass through the relatively narrow gap Wednesday. Twenty-two transits are planned until September, when Cassini goes in and never comes out, vaporizing in Saturn’s atmosphere.
Launched in 1997, Cassini reached Saturn in 2004 and has been exploring it from orbit ever since. Cassini’s fuel tank is almost empty, so NASA has opted for a risky, but science-rich grand finale.
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