I am writing this just after the End of Mission event. They announced the ‘loss of signal’ from Cassini in the last few minutes – and this is the sign of a transmission from a spacecraft burning up in Saturn’s atmosphere, taking over an hour to travel to mission control here on Earth.
They have been showing us footage from the control room and various other Cassini-related interviews on big screens here at Caltech. Most of the folks from the various instrument teams are here. We are incredibly proud and also sad at the same time. So many extraordinary scientists, engineers, and project managers have worked so hard for so long to make Cassini a success. The spacecraft, now a memory, leaves us with an enormous legacy dataset that will take decades to fully exploit, launching, I am sure, many more scientific careers in the process.
The team I belong to managed the magnetometer instrument and, collectively, are an extraordinary group of people. Using magnetic field measurements, we have probed Saturn’s interior, detected the first hints of the water geysers on the tiny icy moon Enceladus, probed the environment of the moon Titan, and explored Saturn’s global magnetic ‘heartbeat’ – a sign of the communication between its atmosphere and magnetosphere. And there have been many more discoveries and collaborations with other instrument teams along the way.
I have been proud to be part of this project and emphasise, once again, that it conveys a critical message in this day and age that people can achieve incredible things when they come together in a spirit of collaboration and mutual respect. Goodbye Cassini, you will be missed but never forgotten.
Prof. N. Achilleos, Los Angeles CA, Sept 15 2017
Featured image credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky