But now it is running low on the fuel needed to alter its orbits around Saturn and orientate its suite of instruments, and the grand finale before an intended plunge into the upper atmosphere of gas giant Saturn this September has started.
The imminent risk to Cassini completing those final orbits is that it may collide with some of the small fragments of frozen dusts and ices that might exist between the visible inside ring edge and the planet each time it crosses the plane of the intricate ring system above Saturn’s equatorial zone.
They may even contain the downloaded intelligence, decision making and information processing skills of future space scientists in their payloads, rendering direct human involvement in such deep space exploration immune to the medical risks of prolonged loss of gravity or radiation storms.
Leaving aside the technical difficulties faced and the precision required some 1.2 billion kilometres from Earth to thread Cassini-Huygens through Saturn’s rings just to get set-up to launch Huygens toward Titan, the pictures of volcanic Io against the backdrop of Jupiter (not even a mission photo, just taking the opportunity to snap a fly-by pic), Titan set against Saturn’s rings, pumicestone-like Hyperion, cratered Mimas, storms on Saturn and Saturn’s rings and their shadows from almost every conceivable angle were simply astounding.
(Or for as long as the ON button was engaged, although with the ‘right’ machine, such extensions of natural individuals could devise other devices that would make sure backups and alternative sources of energy remained available ‘forever’.) I think we’ve all become familiar, sometimes painfully familiar in our professions, with the consequences of ‘disruptive’ technology.