rain’s musings – september 14, 2017

I’ve finally decided to do something I’ve been thinking about for years – adding a blog to the website. Now I don’t really think of this as a ‘blog’ in the traditional sense. It’s more of my occasional musings on anything and everything related to space. It might be my excited ramblings regarding some to announcement or finding or maybe me venting about something that ticked me off in the space community. It’s just whatever strikes me at a whim enough to bring me to the keyboard. I will warn any of you that have come across these words – I’m never going to win any awards for my writing prowess! lol

**Post DragonCon Thoughts**

So, 24 hours from now the Cassini probe will have begun the final sequences of her long mission and will have approximately 2 hours left before disintegrating in the atmosphere of the ringed planet whose system she has spent 13 years exploring. The Cassini/Huygens Mission has been a glittering success both factually and literally. We now know so much more about Saturn, considered the most beautiful of the planets in our solar system with its spectacular ring system. Found amazing information about the large moon Titan, the most Earth-like place outside of Earth itself, with its lakes, weather and thick atmosphere. Discovered Enceladus not only has geysers near the south pole which contribute the material for the E ring, but subsequently found that the moon likely has an ocean covering the entire surface under a 20 mile thick crust of ice which has all the ingredients for life – liquid water, heat, and food (methane). Then there are the rest of the moons!! Mimas, the ‘Death Star’ moon. Hyperion, which is so cratered it looks a like sponge. Dione and Rhea have (very) thin atmospheres. Iapetus has one snow-white hemisphere while its other hemisphere is nearly as dark as charcoal. There are the shepherd moons Pan (Encke gap), Daphnis (Keeler gap), Atlas (A Ring), Prometheus (F Ring) and Pandora (F Ring) and the co-orbital moons, Janus and Epimetheus, their gravitational interaction causes them to swap orbits every four years. There is so much more!

For all of Cassini’s 13 years in the Saturn system Space Track has had someone from JPL’s Cassini mission project to tell us about the latest news. Kevin Grazier, John Smith, Trina Ray, Kim Steadman, Scott Edgington and Sarah Milkovich have given Space Track information on every aspect of Cassini’s mission. The science, the engineering, the navigation, the mishaps, the discoveries and the pictures! Each year we eagerly awaited the latest on the news behind the stunning images Cassini has sent back. Each year we grew closer to the people and the mission, until now, 13 years later, they are like family that you get together with once a year.

But now we await a ‘death’. A death we’ve known was coming and understand it’s necessity but it still doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. Cassini’s nuclear fuel source is gone and rather than risk the chance of Cassini contaminating moons that might harbor life or could allow micros to grow, it will dive into the atmosphere of Saturn. Even Cassini’s last minutes will hopefully provide some additional information on the giant ringed planet. This year we held a ‘wake’ of 4 ‘lets look back’ talks and next year will be the ‘funeral’ of the information gained during those final orbits and dive.

I’m grateful for all the wonderful years we’ve shared with Cassini and I’ll miss her. I think most Space Track fans will. All our wonderful JPL people are now with other projects so we don’t need to lose our ‘family’. : ) I have the honor of knowing that I have been able to give back to this amazing group in a small way. My charity challenge coin of Cassini has been presented to a number of the top managers of the project and have been very well received.

I will be awake and watching in the early hours of Friday, September 15th to share those last moments with Cassini and my ‘once a year’ family. I know there will be tears but I also know that all the people of our Earth have and will benefit from Cassini’s mission. Many questions were answered but so many more are now awaiting answers and hopefully those questions will prompt future missions to the Saturian system.

I’m looking forward to it! I hope all of you are too!