Combined, the Cassini-Huygens mission cost about $3.26 billion, according to NASA. The Grand Finale is necessitated to prevent the possibility of Earthly bacteria that has been living on Cassini for the last 20 years contaminating an object orbiting Saturn - an unlikely but possible occurrence. This final in-depth trip provided some valuable information about the chemical composition of Saturn's atmosphere. Finally, they get to move on.
The reason NASA is destroying Cassini is because of the spacecraft's most astonishing discovery. In the 13 years flying around the planet, Cassini helped astronauts on Earth discover six moons around Saturn while snapping more than 450,000 images.
After 13 years and hundreds of orbits around Saturn, Cassini is in its final fall towards the gas giant. As it begins to burn up, it will continue to send back observations and data as long as it can before the signal goes dark and Cassini is no more. So instead, Cassini was powered by a small plutonium-fuelled nuclear reactor. But no one knew about the geysers until Cassini arrived on the scene. Which means that, while Cassini is soon to become one with Saturn, its scientific legacy won't be going up in flames any time soon. The Cassini mission could barely compete in dinner time conversation up against missions to mars, especially not when it was only in the planning stage. "And the finale has gone so smoothly it's downright spooky".
As per the reports of NASA, "The mission's final calculations predict loss of contact with the Cassini spacecraft will take place on September 15 at 7:55 a.m. EDT (4:55 a.m. PDT)".
What other discoveries were made by Cassini? And it has also captured some lovely and never seen before images of the ring planet and its moons, through its lenses. Some are surprisingly simple, like pinning down exactly how long Saturn's day is.
"We'll be able to look at some important constituents that we know are there because we've been measuring them, but we'll get a better idea, for example, of the hydrogen to helium ratio, and that's important in terms of understanding the formation and evolution of Saturn", he said.
Launched in 1997, the mission was a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). Few would have suspected Titan would be teeming with complex organic molecules-not all that dissimilar from the building blocks of life. "Right now we are on track for making "three-ish" teams very, very happy just in time for Christmas", said Curt Niebur of NASA Headquarters at a September 6 meeting of the Outer Planets Assessment Group, discussing the ongoing evaluation of New Frontiers proposals. "But now, that's exactly what we're talking about doing". There is also evidence of a liquid ocean beneath the surface that probably contains ammonia and water.
And really, Cassini has totally reshaped scientists' theories around oceans in general. But after Cassini revealed so many ocean worlds close at hand, that assumption has to be revised. "You're racing against the clock at that point", he said. The spacecraft is almost out of fuel, so mission managers wanted to dispose of Cassini safely while they still had control of it. Through the eyes of Huygens, an instrument built by UA scientists and engineers, people on Earth could watch as the probe hurtled through the opaque and hazy atmosphere enshrouding Titan.
Why was Cassini's mission significant?That's what Lunine calls "the $200 million per year question".
The Cassini mission did result in several dedicated books, including a Haynes' Owners' Workshop Manual penned by Ralph Lorenz, a member of the Cassini radar team. "It is as detailed and lovely as the ones that you can buy in a gift shop", Barber said.