Press Release

NASA Cassini Spacecraft Arrives At Saturn

By SpaceRef Editor
July 1, 2004
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NASA Cassini Spacecraft Arrives At Saturn
07.01.04.saturn.jpg

The international Cassini-Huygens mission has successfully entered
orbit around Saturn. At 9:12 p.m. PDT on Wednesday, flight
controllers received confirmation that Cassini had completed the
engine burn needed to place the spacecraft into the correct orbit.
This begins a four-year study of the giant planet, its majestic rings
and 31 known moons.

“This is a tribute to the team at NASA and our partners at the
European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency, to accomplish this
feat taking place 934 million miles [1.5 billion kilometers] away from
Earth,” said Dr. Ed Weiler, associate administrator for space science
at NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C. “What Cassini-Huygens will
reveal during its tour of Saturn and its many moons, including Titan,
will astonish scientists and the public. Everyone is invited to come
along for the ride and see all this as it is happening. It truly is a
voyage of discovery.”

Members of the Cassini-Huygens mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., broke into cheers and high-fives as
NASA’s Deep Space Network confirmed receipt of the signal indicating
successful entry into orbit.

“We didn’t expect anything less and couldn’t have asked for anything
more from the spacecraft and the team,” said Robert T. Mitchell,
program manager for the Cassini-Huygens mission at JPL. “This speaks
volumes to the tremendous team that made it all happen.”

Dr. Charles Elachi, JPL director and team leader on the radar
instrument onboard Cassini, said, “It feels awfully good to be in
orbit around the lord of the rings. This is the result of 22 years of
effort, of commitment, of ingenuity, and that’s what exploration is
all about.”

The mission will face another dramatic challenge in December, when the
spacecraft will release the piggybacked Huygens probe – provided by
the European Space Agency – which will plunge through the hazy
atmosphere of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

“This was America’s night. This was NASA doing it right,” said Dr.
David Southwood, director of scientific programs for the European
Space Agency. “They really gave those of us in Europe a challenge.
We’ve got six months to go until we land on Titan. We’re just praying
that everything will go as well.”

Julie Webster, Cassini-Huygens spacecraft team chief, said, “The
spacecraft has been an incredible joy to fly. We stand on the
shoulders of people who had 40 years of experience building and
designing spacecraft.”

Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun. It is the second largest
planet in our solar system, after Jupiter. The planet and ring system
serve as a miniature model of the disc of gas and dust surrounding our
early Sun that eventually formed the planets. Detailed knowledge of
the dynamics of interactions among Saturn’s elaborate rings and
numerous moons will provide valuable data for understanding how each
of the solar system’s planets evolved.

Cassini traveled nearly 3.5 billion kilometers (2.2 billion miles) to
reach Saturn after its launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station,
Fla., on Oct. 15, 1997. During Cassini’s four-year mission, it will
execute 52 close encounters with seven of Saturn’s 31 known moons.

The first images are expected to return Thursday morning. Science
measurements gathered Wednesday are the closest ever obtained of
Saturn. Those measurements may reveal details of the gravitational
and magnetic fields that tell scientists about Saturn’s interior.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the
European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in
Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA’s Office of
Space Science, Washington, D.C. JPL designed, developed and assembled
the Cassini orbiter.

For the latest images and more information about the Cassini-Huygens
mission, visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and
http://www.nasa.gov/cassini .

SpaceRef staff editor.