Wednesday, November 08, 2006

"Death of a Spacecraft: The Unknown Fate of Cassini"

An interesting discussion is going on about what to do with the Cassini spacecraft when it has fulfilled its mission.

Sometime around 2012, Cassini, like the ocean-going ships of old, will need to be decommissioned. However, the spacecraft cannot be towed to some nearby shore to be dismantled; she must either drop anchor, be scuttled, or cast off her gravitational moorings altogether.

NASA is considering several options, including:

  • Leaving the craft in an orbit that doesn't pose a danger (a likely option)
  • Crashing it into Saturn (an intriguing option)
  • Crashing it, gently, onto one of Saturn's moons
  • Escaping Saturn to drift off into deep space or to possibly visit Jupiter

I say land Cassini onto one of the moons, Iapetus preferably. That strange, duotoned moon needs some close scrutiny, and think of the wonderful close-up images we could get as Cassini nears its final target. Just like when Deep Impact crashed into Tempel 1.

That would be great stuff, though I think NASA will probably choose the first option. Even if they do, Cassini has served us well in her journey.

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