NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has now successfully completed its 12th ring crossing at Saturn, and is now well past the halfway point of the Grand Finale phase of its mission. Each ring crossing, with now only 10 left, brings Cassini closer to its inevitable end in September, when the spacecraft will plunge into Saturn’s turbulent atmosphere to meet its fiery fate.
So far, everything has been going to plan. “It’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to do,” said Julie Webster, Cassini’s manager of spacecraft operations. “The spacecraft is executing every command that’s asked of it.”
The Grand Finale phase began last April and will conclude on Sept. 15, when the mission will end after about 13 years. During that time, Cassini has revealed Saturn and its moons to human eyes as never before, providing unprecedented views of these enigmatic worlds.
“No spacecraft has ever gone through the unique region that we’ll attempt to boldly cross 22 times,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “What we learn from Cassini’s daring final orbits will further our understanding of how giant planets, and planetary systems everywhere, form and evolve. This is truly discovery in action to the very end.”
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