SPACE | NASA's Cassini spacecraft to face fiery end

Source NASA

Source NASA

"I hope you're all as deeply proud fo this fantastic accomplishment".

While saddened like everyone else, program manager Earl Maize said he felt great pride and couldn't have asked for more from "such an incredible machine".

The Cassini mission began on October 15 1997 when the spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard a Titan IVB/Centaur rocket.

Cassini was estimated to last about a minute and a half in Saturn's atmosphere before high temperatures ripped apart and melted its components.

The Cassini spacecraft which will be crashing into Saturn's environment was named after the 17th-century astronomer Giovanni Cassini. Data from the spacecraft indicate Saturn's rings - which consist of icy bits ranging in size from dust to mountains - may be on the less massive side.

Deputy project scientist Scott Edgington was also there, absorbing the moment. It then proceeded to dive into Saturn's atmosphere at 120,000km/hr.

"Things never will be quite the same for those of us on the Cassini team now that the spacecraft is no longer flying", Cassini project scientist Linda Spilker, said in a statement. Edgington said, "It's like a heartbeat".

SPACECRAFT: Traveling too far from the sun to reap its energy, Cassini used plutonium for electrical power to feed its science instruments.

On Sept. 15, Cassini will plunge into Saturn, sending new and unique science about the planet's upper atmosphere to the very end. So the team made a decision to bring Cassini closer to Saturn than ever before to do some final science, before sending the probe into the planet to meet its fiery end. Instead of keeping the mission going and potentially colliding with one of Saturn's moons, which have the potential ingredients for life, the option to conduct a controlled crash was preferred.

There had been a big build up to Cassini's harrowing finale. Here's a selection of what Cassini saw in its final hours.

A view of Earth from Saturn. On the flip side, more massive rings would suggest they originated around the same time as Saturn, more than 4 billion years ago.

One of Cassini's most important - and surprising - discoveries during its 13 years at Saturn was that the moon Enceladus has an ocean of liquid saltwater beneath its frozen surface.

"While it's always sad when a mission comes to an end, Cassini's finale plunge is a truly spectacular end for one of the most scientifically rich voyages yet undertaken in our solar system", NASA's statement said.

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