NASA will intentionally crash the Cassini space probe into Saturn in what’s been described as a “Grand Finale” to the probe’s mission.
Starting on April 26, the spacecraft will make a series of dives between the 1,500-mile-wide gap between Saturn and its rings. The probe will then fly straight into Saturn, burning up in the gas giant’s atmosphere, NASA scientists announced Tuesday.
NASA hopes the “Grand Finale” will give them a better understanding of Saturn’s atmosphere and the origins of its rings.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory estimates the mission will cost $3.26 billion. The U.S. shouldered $2.6 billion of of the bill and the European Space Agency (ESA) kicked in $500 million.
“No spacecraft has ever gone through the unique region that we’ll attempt to boldly cross 22 times,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, said in a press statement.
“What we learn from Cassini’s daring final orbits will further our understanding of how giant planets, and planetary systems everywhere, form and evolve,” Zurbuchen said. “This is truly discovery in action to the very end.”
Cassini launched from Earth in 1997 and took seven years to get to Saturn. On its 13-year orbit of Saturn’s moon, the probe made numerous scientific discoveries. NASA will dispose of the probe in Saturn because it is almost out of fuel.
The probe took a picture making Saturn’s moon Mimas look like the Death Star from Star Wars, found oceans on the moons Dione and Enceladus, and even found evidence that alien life could develop on the moon Titan.
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