In its lifetime, Cassini took more than 400,000 images of Saturn, its ring, and 53 moons. Cassini produced some of the most humbling, spectacular and stunning images since the dawn of human history.
However, NASA decided that it would be a safer option to plunge Cassini to Saturn rather than risking contaminants from space entering our earthly environment. NASA didn’t want to leave Cassini in Orbit because it would eventually crash into one of Saturn's moon. So a fiery death for the spacecraft seems to be the most logical option.
NASA dove Cassini into Saturn's dense atmosphere where it broke apart, melted, and vaporized. Cassini became part of Saturn, a fitting end for this legendary voyager considering its main objective was to document the solar system's biggest planet and its relatively nearby systems.
Since Saturn is very far from the planet Earth, Cassini met its end 83 minutes after the final signal which was received by the Canberra station in Australia.
On Sept. 8, Cassini initiated its final dive through the gap between Saturn and its innermost ring.
On Sept. 9, Cassini uploaded the final data of what's now considered as the "Last Grand Finale."
On Sept. 11, Cassini performed the "goodbye kiss" to Titan as it proceeded through its final flyby of Saturn's famous and largest moon.
On Sept. 12, Cassini transmitted the final data of the Titan flyby.
On Sept 14, Cassini took its final up-close-and-personal images of Saturn. At this time, Canberra station in Australia took over in receiving the transmission data and the tracking of Cassini's progress.
On Sept 15, Cassini rolled on its side and took samples of Saturn's atmosphere. At its very final moments, Cassini fired its thrusters at 10% capacity at first and gradually increased to 100% thrust. As Cassini tumbled, its main antenna pointed away from Earth resulting in a loss of transmission.
The Team for the Final Mission
The team for the final mission is continually updated with the predicted moment of Cassini's final transmission.
The main variable was Saturn’s atmosphere density. We only have estimates of Saturn's atmospheric density. If it's denser than what we estimated, then this will cause Cassini's timeline to dilate. If the atmosphere is thinner than expected, then Cassini's final mission timeline may speed up.
Cassini’s flight team meticulously tracked the final flight path. How Cassini altered its course provided valuable insights on Saturn's atmosphere.
Cassini left Earth on October 15, 1997. It stayed mission active for 20 years. Upon leaving Earth, Cassini brought along the Huygens lander, a lander probe that landed on Titan. Hugyens’ mission was a success, and it was the first successful man-made landing on a moon other than Earth's moon. Cassini did 4 major missions which were all considered a success.