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Watch NASA’s Tribute to Its Doomed Saturn Orbiter, and Cry for Our Robot Friends

On September 15, Cassini will throw itself into Saturn after nearly 20 years in space.

by Becky Ferreira
Apr 4 2017, 10:18pm

Artist's illustration of the NASA Cassini probe on its descent. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

We're about to get our best views of Saturn ever thanks to NASA's self-destructing Cassini orbiter.

Launched in 1997, Cassini arrived at the ringed gas giant Saturn in 2004 and delivered the European-built Huygens probe to the surface of its largest moon, Titan, in 2005. For over a decade, the orbiter has spent its time discovering new Saturnian moons, studying the dynamics of the complex system, and snapping thousands of spectacular images of its picturesque host world.

But on September 15 of this year, one month shy of its 20th anniversary in space, Cassini's great adventure will come to an end. On that date, the orbiter will dutifully dive into the deadly embrace of Saturn to be destroyed by atmospheric heat and pressure, becoming one with the planet it has faithfully observed on our behalf for 13 years.

Read More: The Cassini Orbiter Takes One Last Look at Oddball Moon Hyperion

On Tuesday, NASA released a heartrending video tribute to the orbiter's achievements and its ongoing "Grand Finale" of close-pass maneuvers through Saturn's rings and moons. If you're in the habit of anthropomorphizing robotic spacecraft, which we at Motherboard most assuredly are, you may want to have a tissue handy to pre-emptively console yourself about the orbiter's impending swan song.

True to its workhorse reputation, Cassini will continue to relay pictures and measurements back to Earth during its final moments, until its antennae are ruined in the descent. Like so many probes that came before it, including the recent Mercury MESSENGER and Rosetta comet missions, this extraordinary spacecraft will bring us vicariously closer to its adopted world than ever before.

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space exploration
solar system