As Cassini Makes 1st ‘Grand Finale’ Dive, More Saturn Mysteries Remain
Running low on fuel, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has begun the final — and most daring — phase of its epic mission to Saturn.
After using a final flyby of the moon Titan on Friday to boost its speed, Cassini was flung by the moon’s gravity to a trajectory that sent it diving through the 1,200-mile (1,930 kilometers) gap between the planet’s upper atmosphere and innermost rings, NASA officials said.
Cassini completed the first crossing of the ring plane at about 2 a.m. PDT (5 a.m. EDT, or 0900 GMT) Wednesday, the space agency said in a statement.
This final journey will end Sept. 15 when the spacecraft burns up in Saturn’s crushing atmosphere. There is no turning back now; Cassini is on a “ballistic trajectory,” and its fate is sealed, NASA scientists have said. The Grand Finale has been designed to prevent the spacecraft from contaminating the potentially habitable Saturnian moons.