Cassini-Huygens Mission to saturn

Launched: October 15, 1997

There were many technological advances that occurred in 1997. WiFi was introduced as the new standard, Dolly the sheep became the first successfully cloned animal, the Mars Pathfinder successfully landed on Mars, the Google domain name is registered, and most people in the U.S. owned or had access to a computer and cell phone. Also, the Spice Girls' movie Spice World was released. A few major events that occurred in 1997 include Princess Diana died in a car crash, the United Kingdom returned Hong Kong and the New Territories to the People's Republic of China, and the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993 came into force, outlawed production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons among its signatories.

The Spice Girls, 1997 (

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a joint endeavor of NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian space agency, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI). Cassini is a sophisticated robotic spacecraft orbiting Saturn and studying the Saturnian system in detail. Cassini also carried a probe called Huygens, which parachuted to the surface of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, in January 2005. Below is a video showcasing some of the amazing results Huygens collected.

Cassini completed its initial four-year mission to explore the Saturn System in June 2008, and the first extension, called the Cassini Equinox Mission, in September 2010. Now, the healthy spacecraft is making exciting new discoveries in a second extension called the Cassini Solstice Mission.

Photo of Saturn taken by Cassini (

In late 2016, the Cassini spacecraft will begin a daring set of orbits called the Grand Finale, which will be in some ways like a whole new mission. The spacecraft will repeatedly climb high above Saturn’s poles, flying just outside its narrow F ring 20 times. After a last targeted Titan flyby, the spacecraft will then dive between Saturn’s uppermost atmosphere and its innermost ring 22 times. As Cassini plunges past Saturn, the spacecraft will collect rich and valuable information far beyond the mission’s original plan, including measuring Saturn’s gravitational and magnetic fields, determining ring mass, sampling the atmosphere and ionosphere, and making the last views of Enceladus.

The Cassini orbiter advances and extends the United States' technology base with several innovations in engineering and information systems. Whereas previous planetary spacecraft used onboard tape recorders, Cassini pioneers a new solid-state data recorder with no moving parts. The recorder will be used in more than twenty other missions both within and outside NASA. Similarly, the main onboard computer that directs operations of the orbiter uses a novel design drawing on new families of electronic chips. Among them are very high-speed integrated circuit (VHSIC) chips developed under a U.S. government-industry research and development initiative. Also part of the computer are powerful new application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) parts; each component replaces a hundred or more traditional chips. Elsewhere on the Cassini orbiter, the power system benefits from an innovative solid-state power switch being developed from the mission. This switch will eliminate rapid fluctuations called transients that usually occur with conventional power switches, with a significantly improved component lifetime.

The 12,593 lb spacecraft preparing for launch in 1997. (

The Saturnian system proved to be rich ground for exploration and discoveries, and Cassini's science findings changed the course of future planetary exploration. "We're looking at a string of remarkable discoveries -- about Saturn's magnificent rings, its amazing moons, its dynamic magnetosphere and Titan's surface and atmosphere," said Linda Spilker, Cassini's project scientist. "Some of the mission highlights so far include discovering that Titan has Earth-like processes and that the small moon Enceladus has a hot-spot at its southern pole, plus jets on the surface that spew out ice crystals, and liquid water beneath its surface." Cassini's observations of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, have given scientists a glimpse of what Earth might have been like before life evolved. They now believe Titan possesses many parallels to Earth, including lakes, rivers, channels, dunes, rain, clouds, mountains and possibly volcanoes.

A year after Cassini-Huygens was launched, NASA sent the Lunar Prospector into orbit to perform a low polar orbit investigation.

The Lunar Prospector (
Created By
Elena Dziak

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