(Please indulge me while I stray from my usual topics.)
Today the Cassini orbiter will burn up in Saturn’s atmosphere, nearly twenty years after it was launched from Earth and thirteen years after it entered orbit around Saturn.
It makes me terribly sad to see the (physical) end of its mission. But I believe it is better to celebrate what an amazing and mind-boggling mission it has been.
Not only did the Huygens probe land on another planet’s moon, but every time the controllers pointed Cassini’s camera and sensors at something new, it discovered a surprise.
The list goes on and on.
And the pictures sent back to Earth kept being utterly beautiful, showing a planetscape and moonscapes vastly different from our terrestrial experience. We could never have imagined the views and features revealed to us by the orbiter’s camera.
But now we can.
This is of course, the point of science and exploration. Where ever humanity starts to explore, we always discover the unexpected.
Cassini, Rosetta, Juno, NewHorizon and all the other probes in space, prove over and over again, that the universe is stranger than we can imagine. But once someone has measured or seen our universe has expanded. We have learned.
After today there will be one spacecraft left in the outer solar system: Juno is orbiting Jupiter and scheduled to be scuttled into the Jovian atmosphere in 2018. NewHorizons has zipped through the Plutonian system and is preparing to meet a small icy body in the Kuiper belt on its way out of the system.
As of now, none of the space agencies are preparing another mission to the outer solar system. There are plans. However, the preparation and travel necessary for these missions requires several years.
Once Juno is scuttled, we will not see new pictures from the outer solar system for at least a decade or more.
This makes me much more sad than seeing the end of this glorious, astounding and wonderful mission.
Thank you, Cassini, and everyone who made this happen!