Cassini spacecraft to dive inside Saturn’s rings for mission finale

NASA is preparing to send its long-lived Cassini probe into the unexplored region between Saturn and its rings for a scientific grand finale before the spacecraft’s suicidal plunge into the planet, space officials said on Tuesday.
Since arriving at Saturn in July 2004, Cassini has been exploring the giant planet and its entourage of 62 known moons, including enigmatic Titan, believed by scientists to resemble an early Earth, and the ocean-bearing moon Enceladus, which is shooting ice particles out into space.

To avoid any chance that hitchhiking Earth microbes still alive on Cassini could contaminate any potential living organisms on Enceladus, NASA plans to crash the spacecraft, which is running out of fuel, into Saturn on September 15.

But before its demise, Cassini has one last mission.

On April 22, Cassini will make a final pass by Titan and use the moon’s gravity to slingshot itself into a new orbit that passes inside the 1,930-kilo metre wide gap between the edge of Saturn’s atmosphere and its inner-most rings.

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