In October 1977, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA in conjunction with the European Space Agency and the Agenzia Spaziale Italiana, ASI or Italian Space Agency, launched one of the most ambitious space missions to date. The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft began its seven-year mission to the planet Saturn.
Fast forward to almost 20 years later and we have thousands of detailed photos of the ringed planet and its moons and landed a probe on Titan. We’ve gained a great deal of knowledge from that data we now have new missions to look forward to.
All good things…
As the probe is running out of power, Cassini’s final mission will be to break up and crash into Saturn. Why not leave it to continue onward?
Two very good reasons. Enceladus, and Titan.
From the photos sent back by Cassini, we’ve learned they have a liquid ocean under the changing frozen surface. Project scientist Linda Spilker in a recent interview on NPR explained that because there may be life on these two moons, they did not want risk contaminating these worlds if the dead probe should crash into one of them.
Enceladus regularly spews plumes of water into space and in a future mission packed with life detecting equipment will make multiple passes over the moon to look for signs of organic life.
Titan’s liquid ocean is covered with an icy crust that develops cracks as the moon melts and refreezes.
Below, I’ve linked to pages that give more information about the future missions and a link the photo gallery from Cassini.