NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on Friday burnt into the skies above Saturn and crashed into the atmosphere of the ringed-planet during its Grand Finale day, marking an end to its 20-year long remarkable journey.
The confirmation of NASA’s Cassini’s death came around 7:55 AM EDT when the radio signals from the spacecraft went flat and the probe fell silent.
Cassini was the only spacecraft ever to Orbit Saturn. It made incredible discoveries of the planet, its rings and moons in all their glory. Cassini also revealed the ocean worlds on Saturn moons Enceladus and Titan, which could possibly harbour life.
On Thursday, Cassini snapped its "last memento photos" of the Saturn system. Cassini performed its job well till its end as it sampled the atmosphere of Saturn on Friday morning while making its final plunge.
The final announcement was made by Program manager Earl Maize:
"This has been an incredible mission, an incredible spacecraft and you're all an incredible team," Maize said. "I'll call this the end of mission."
As Cassini lost signals, flight controllers wearing purple shirts stood and hugged each other and shook hands.
Over 1500 people, including past and present team members, had gathered at California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a vigil and celebration.
Many gathered at nearby California Institute of Technology, which runs the lab for NASA.
Linda Spilker, the Cassini project scientist, noted that the spacecraft has been running "a marathon of scientific discovery" for 13 years at Saturn. "So we're here today to cheer as Cassini finishes that race," she said.
Cassini lost control when it plummeted at more than 76,000 mph (122,000 kph). Ground telescopes were used by officials to catch a glimpse of Cassini’s last-gasp flash but weren’t hopeful it would be spotted from such a distance.
The Grand Finale was planned after Cassini started getting low on fuel after exploring Saturn for 13 years. NASA destroyed the spacecraft in order to prevent it from contaminating moons Enceladus or Titan.
In April, Cassini made 22 daring and death-defying flybys between the Saturn’s cloud tops and its rings.
Carolyn Porco, the leader of Cassini's imaging team and a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, was so involved with the mission for so long that now, "I consider it the start of life, part two."
Cassini left Earth in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004. The Huygens landed on Saturn moon Titan in 2005.
Cassini collected over 4,53,000 pictures and travelled 4.9 billion miles.
Cassini showed us the beauty of Saturn.— CassiniSaturn (@CassiniSaturn) September 15, 2017
It revealed the best in us.
Now it's up to us to keep exploring. pic.twitter.com/E4p1jOvFKf