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.