NASA’s $3.9 billion Cassini spacecraft 18 September 2017 ended its 20-year-long groundbreaking journey with a fiery plunge into the Saturn’s crushing atmosphere, beaming back never-before-seen images of the ringed planet and its mysterious moons until the last moment.
Operators deliberately made Cassini, the first spacecraft to orbit Saturn, dive into the gas giant to ensure that the planet’s moons in particular Enceladus, with its subsurface ocean and signs of hydrothermal activity remain pristine for future exploration.
The spacecraft’s fateful dive was the final beat in the mission’s Grand Finale, 22 weekly dives, which began in late April, through the gap between Saturn and its rings. No spacecraft has ever ventured so close to the planet before, NASA said. “I hope you are all as deeply proud of this amazing accomplishment.
The $3.9 billion mission continued to transmit data back to the Earth till the last minute before it came apart and was burned up like a meteor in Saturn’s atmosphere. The unmanned orbiter tore through the atmosphere at the speed of 113,000 kilometres per hour.