Goodbye, Cassini. And thank you. After a 20-year mission, 13 in orbit of Saturn, Cassini is in its final hours as the spacecraft dives one last time for Saturn’s atmosphere. Over the course of its years at Saturn, Cassini has watched the seasons change on the majestic ringed planet and Titan, made unparalleled discoveries, and opened our eyes about the possibilities of life in our solar system beyond Earth. Now, Cassini’s final act will be to preserve that potential life by destroying itself in Saturn’s atmosphere rather than risk contamination of Titan and Enceladus.
Two decades of development:
What would ultimately become the Cassini-Huygens mission dates to the early 1980s when the National Academy of Sciences in the United States and the European Science Foundation came together to investigate the potential of cooperative missions.
The venture quickly suggested a joint Saturnian orbiter and Titan lander mission.
The following year, 1983, the Solar System Exploration Committee of NASA recommended a similar joint Saturnian orbiter and Titan lander mission.
Throughout 1984-5, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) jointly investigated the feasibility of such a mission; however, after 1985, NASA backed out of the venture, which continued forward, in a study capacity, ...