Cassini: Uncovering the Secrets of Saturn

Saturn is one of the great celestial bodies for obvious reasons, but the Voyager probe had shown us that its moons were quite the charming bunch. As Bonnie Buratti, a JPL scientist, put it: “There was Titan, which looked kind of like an Earth in deep freeze. Enceladus looked like it was covered in snow. And there was Iapetus, a moon with one half as dark as tar and the other half basically as bright as snow.” Thus, a follow-up mission was needed, and it would be Cassini, the last of the giant space probes. It would prove to be one humanity’s great achievements, as it surpassed every goal and hope to deliver science that will take decades to fully decipher. Its accomplishments are legion, but here’s a sampling. It dropped the Huygens probe onto Titan, the first time a human probe landed on a non-Moon moon. Huygens discovered the Titan is remarkably Earth-like, with rain, rivers, lakes and seas, as well as prebiotic chemicals. Cassini found active ice plumes on Enceladus. It discovered that Saturn’s iconic rings are dynamic and can model planet formation. The list goes on. In honor of its final plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere, the Los Angeles Times provides a poignant oral history of how the spacecraft came to be using interviews with some very proud scientists and engineers.

‘OK. Let’s do it!’ An oral history of how NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn came to be, 9.12.17