By Tom Dare
INCREDIBLE FOOTAGE showing the launch of the Cassini spacecraft nearly 20 years ago has re-emerged today as the probe prepares to destroy itself.
The video, which was taken at the launch of the Cassini Hyugens probe on October 15 1997 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, shows a controller counting down from 15 as the rocket carrying the probe prepares to blast into space.
The spacecraft, a combined effort by NASA and the European Space Agency which cost an estimated £3 billion, then launches into the sky, with one shot showing the shimmering water below as the rocket climbs steadily higher.
Today marks the final day of Cassini’s operations before it is forced to fly itself into Saturn’s atmosphere. NASA have said that they feel now is the time to end the mission as the craft is on its final fuel supplies, thus ending a 13-year observation of the huge ringed planet.
After launching in October of 1997, it took the probe seven years to reach Saturn’s atmosphere, where it began sending back pictures and information from across the planet.
Then in 2005 it deployed its Hyugens probe to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, where it began sending back reports on the atmosphere, temperature, pressure and density on the moon’s surface. Hyugens remains to this day the furthest from earth a probe has ever landed.
During its 13-year observation of Saturn, Cassini has been able to provide some fascinating insight into life on the second largest planet in the solar system.
Captivating photos of its moons, rings and storms have all helped deepen our understanding of the planet, the sixth-furthest planet from the sun.
But perhaps Casssini’s most significant finding was the discovery made on Encaledus, one of Saturn’s moons. Voyager probes in the 1980s had shown that the 500km-wide moon had a relatively young surface, suggesting that some kind of process was renewing it on a regular basis. But it was only when Cassini sent back pictures of huge water geyser’s erupting ice from the moon’s South Pole that scientists truly understood what was at work on the surface.
The spacecraft is expected to begin descending toward Saturn’s surface at approximately 11.55 GMT today (September 15) at a speed of around 120,000 km/h, tearing it to pieces and ending a near 20-year-old mission that has provided invaluable insight into life outside our planet.