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The spacecraft will align its antenna with Earth and downlink the photographs via the Deep Space Network.The transmission will start in Goldstone, California, then get handed off to Canberra, Australia, as Earth turns below the steady stream of data.Faced with dwindling propellent supplies, Cassini’s engineering team dreamt up an audacious plan to get the most interesting science results possible before safely disposing of the spacecraft.This plan was the Grand Finale, 22 ever-more-daring orbits skimming Saturn’s atmosphere and darting between the rings until finally, inevitably, steepening Cassini’s near-misses into a final plunge directly into Saturn.This ESA-built probe delved into the rich atmosphere of Saturn’s largest moon Titan, providing the first close look at the complex world.During Cassini’s thirteen years in orbit around Saturn, it danced among the moons and rings to study the world in unprecedented detail.Northern Illinois has an unusual climate history due to its latitude and geology.The Chicago region in particular was once under the southern edge of the Wisconsinan ice sheet.
The last fragments to survive will be its plutonium power supplies, still wrapped in the iridium and shielding meant to reduce risk to Earth during its launch nearly two decades ago. For many extending beyond the mission team, it will be analyzing the 635 GB of scientific data collected and adding to the 3,948 papers already published. A more recent theory propose prehistoric Solutreans of Ice Age France also sailed west to America across the Atlantic Ocean along the south ridge of the polar ice cap more than 18,000 years ago.It is thought they brought Clovis point technology (earlier, similar points were found in France) and genetic diversity (such as red hair and large noses) to Native Americans.Mission scientists learned to use Titan as a dance partner for the spacecraft, dipping into the moon’s gravitational potential to fling Cassini onto new trajectories while conserving precious fuel.
But even efficient spacecraft driving burns some fuel — with 6,504 pounds (2,950 kilograms) of propellent burned and just 1 pound (0.5kg) left in Cassini’s tank, it’s time to end the mission and crash the spacecraft into Saturn while NASA’s team still has control.
For more than a few, it will be taking the lessons learned during Cassini and applying them to other missions, including NASA’s plans for a Europa Clipper exploring the ocean world circling Jupiter.