Cassini spacecraft disintegrates in the skies above Saturn

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The Latest on the Cassini spacecraft at Saturn (all times local):

7:55 a.m.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is no more: It disintegrated in the skies above Saturn early Friday, following a remarkable journey of 20 years.

Confirmation of Cassini’s expected demise came about 7:55 a.m. EDT. That’s when radio signals from the spacecraft — a final burst of scientific data — came to an abrupt halt. The radio waves went flat, and the spacecraft fell silent.

Cassini actually burned up like a meteor 83 minutes earlier, as it dove through Saturn’s atmosphere, becoming one with the planet it set out in 1997 to explore. But it took that long for the last signal to arrive at Earth.

More than 1,500 people, many of them past and present team members, jammed JPL for what’s described as both a vigil and celebration. Even more gathered at nearby California Institute of Technology.

The only spacecraft to ever orbit Saturn, Cassini showed us the planet, its rings and moons up close in all their glory. Perhaps most tantalizing, ocean worlds were unveiled on the moons Enceladus and Titan, which could possibly harbor life.

Cassini snapped its “last memento photos” of the Saturn system Thursday. Ever dutiful to the end, it sampled Saturn’s atmosphere Friday morning as it made its final, fateful plunge.

7 a.m.

By now, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft at Saturn should be disintegrated in the sky.

But the confirmation will take 83 minutes to reach Earth, a billion miles away.

So flight controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are still at their posts early Friday morning, watching as the final radio signals roll in from Cassini.

Cassini was set on a course to plunge through Saturn’s atmosphere and vaporize like a meteor Friday morning.

The only spacecraft to ever orbit Saturn, Cassini showed us the planet, its rings and moons up close in all their glory.

Cassini departed Earth in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004. Its hitchhiking companion, Huygens, landed on the moon Titan in 2005. Nothing from Earth has landed farther.

3:30 a.m.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft at Saturn is closing in on its fiery finish, following a remarkable journey of 20 years.

Cassini is on course to plunge through Saturn’s atmosphere and vaporize like a meteor Friday morning.

Flight controllers at California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory expect one last burst of scientific data from Cassini, before the radio waves go flat — and the spacecraft falls silent.

The only spacecraft to ever orbit Saturn, Cassini showed us the planet, its rings and moons up close in all their glory.

Cassini departed Earth in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004. Its hitchhiking companion, Huygens, landed on the moon Titan in 2005. Nothing from Earth has landed farther.

Team members have already said their goodbyes, but will raise glasses in a final salute.

 

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