Yes, it’s true. As of today, August 15, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has less than 31 days—one full month—left in operation and, sadly, its existence. On September 15, 2017, Cassini will end its mission with a controlled dive into Saturn’s atmosphere…a journey that it will not long survive. But up until the very end Cassini, which has been exploring the majestic ringed planet and its family of moons since it arrived in the summer of 2004, will be making scientific observations and sending the data back to us here on Earth—at least as long as it possibly can. That data, in fact, will still be en route across the 900 million miles of space between us and Saturn for almost an hour after the spacecraft will have succumbed to the forces of atmospheric entry.
When Cassini’s final signal is received on Earth it will be a ghost message, sent from a ship that no longer exists.
Note: This is an updated article from 2012.
“That’s one small step for a man… one giant leap for mankind.”
I’m not sure what else need be said about the significance of what happened on this day in 1969, 48 years ago… it was a shining moment in human history, and will be — should be — remembered forever as an example of what people can achieve when challenged, driven, and inspired.
More giant leaps have been made since then, and undoubtedly more will be made in the future, but this was the first and to this date still very much the biggest.
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Today is the the 52nd anniversary of America’s first spacewalk, performed by NASA astronaut Edward H. White II on the afternoon of June 3, 1965 during the four-day Gemini IV mission. In NASA terminology spacewalks are also referred to as extravehicular activities, or EVAs—basically anything done outside the protection of a spacecraft. The video above shows footage of the historic Gemini IV EVA with narration by White himself. (Sound begins about 30 seconds in.)
The photo below was captured on medium-format film by fellow astronaut Jim McDivitt from inside the Gemini IV craft. It shows White free-floating in orbit during his EVA, holding the Hand-held Maneuvering Unit (or “zip gun”) that used canisters of propellant to move the user around. (You can see scans of the original photos from the mission here on ASU’s “March to the Moon” gallery.)
White was tragically killed just two years later on Jan. 27, 1967 in the fire that claimed his life and those of fellow Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee. But his legacy lives on each and every time an American astronaut “suits up” and opens a hatch to venture out into an alien environment, whether it’s in Earth orbit, on the Moon, on Mars…or somewhere we haven’t even thought of visiting yet!
Like people, stars are found in all colors and sizes. They can range from small, sassy red dwarfs to giant blue beasts. In fact there are seven main types of stars, grouped by their apparent colors (and thus temperatures) and classified as O, B, A, F, G, K, or M in order of hottest to coolest. (Learn more about that here.) The video above, released by The Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England, gives a brief life history of three of the most common types of stars found in our galaxy: blue O stars, red M dwarfs, and yellow G stars—the latter of which being the class of our own Sun. It’s really fun, cute, and educational—check it out, and also find more videos on The Royal Observatory’s Vimeo page.
The end is near. On September 15, 2017, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will end its mission as well as its very existence with a plunge into the atmosphere of the very planet it has been orbiting since June 2004. It’s a maneuver intended to protect the pristine environments of Saturn’s icy moons, some of which harbor hidden reserves of liquid water, from potential impact contamination by an incapacitated spacecraft at some distant time in the future. But even though the reasons are noble, there’s no doubt that the final flight of Cassini and its inevitable loss will be a sad event for all those — myself very much included — who have followed along on its journey of discovery all these years. (Literally my first feature post here was a picture from Cassini.)
The video above, released today by NASA, is a poignant look both back at Cassini’s voyages and ahead at its Grand Finale, the last and most daring part of its mission at Saturn. These last few months will be bittersweet for Cassini fans, as every week will bring us closer to the end but also new and breathtaking views of Saturn…up to and including one last “family portrait” of the planet, its beautiful rings, and family of amazing moons.
Must be dusty in here, there’s something in my eye…
The end phase of the mission begins April 22. Follow along with the Grand Finale here.