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Cassini Spacecraft Demise is Bittersweet For PSI’s Hansen

cassini 

When the Cassini spacecraft ended its mission Sept. 15, melting and breaking apart in Saturn’s atmosphere, Candy Hansen was filled with sadness as well as satisfaction. 

Hansen, a Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, began working on the Cassini mission to Saturn in 1990 with the Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (UVIS) investigation team, responsible for planning and analyzing icy satellite data. She is still a UVIS Co-Investigator. 

“This is a bittersweet time – I started working on Cassini 27 years ago, and I feel like I am losing an old friend,” Hansen said. “But the years of data have been a beautiful gift from the spacecraft and my wonderful friends on the project will continue to be an important part of my life.”  

Cassini, launched in 1997, arrived at Saturn in 2004. During its 13-year tour of the Saturn system, Cassini’s discoveries included indications of a global ocean with hydrothermal activity within the icy moon Enceladus, revealing that Enceladus has many of the ingredients needed for life, as well as liquid methane seas on Saturn’s moon Titan. 

PSI scientists played a variety of roles in Cassini’s study of Saturn and its moons. They include Candy Hansen, Amanda Hendrix, Bob Nelson, Joe Spitale, Roger Clark, Bob Gaskell, Bob Tokar, Chuck Wood, Oded Aharonson, Julie Rathbun, Michelle Thomsen, Lucille Le Corre, Catherine Neish, Henry Throop, Eric Palmer, Emily Joseph, Jordan Steckloff and Bruce Barraclough. 

And even though the Cassini spacecraft ceased scientific operations and cease contact with Earth, scientists will continue to work on Cassini data for many years. 

“While the spacecraft will bite the dust Sept. 15, the excitement and discoveries with the data will continue for quite some time,” said PSI Senior Scientist Roger Clark, a member of the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer team who has worked on the mission almost 30 years. “While some of the cream may have been skimmed, the big data synthesis is now underway with new discoveries in the pipeline to be published, and I’m sure new discoveries yet to come. People will be analyzing Cassini data for decades to come. It is still all very exciting.”

This illustration shows the Cassini spacecraft entering Saturn's atmosphere prior to breaking up.

Credit: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech

Oct. 9, 2017

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