NASA's Doomed Cassini Spacecraft Lives on in an Immersive Art Experience

Celebrate the life of a nuclear-powered satellite at the experimental art installation 'BEYOND CASSINI.'

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Sep 14 2017, 4:00am

It's been said that right before a person dies, their life flashes before their eyes. That's exactly what will happen when NASA receives the final images beamed from spacecraft Cassini, as the satellite concludes its 20 years in space by making a dramatic plummet down into Saturn's atmosphere.

The nuclear-powered robot was launched in 1997 with the goal of studying Saturn and its many moons. In 2004, seven years after departing Earth, Cassini arrived on one of the moons and dropped off a lander. It then began orbiting Saturn. In 2010, Cassini began a seven-year mission extension, completing several moon flybys while observing seasonal changes on Saturn and moon Titan, and has been beaming back data and images to Earth ever since. Cassini provided unparalleled observations of the planet those seven years, sending us detailed photos and video.

Image provided by NASA/JPL

In the early hours of Friday September 15, 2017, Cassini will make its final approach to the giant planet Saturn in an event NASA is calling CASSINI: The Grand Finale.

NASA says this encounter will be "like no other": "This time, Cassini will dive into the planet's atmosphere, sending science data for as long as its small thrusters can keep the spacecraft's antenna pointed at Earth. Soon after, Cassini will burn up and disintegrate like a meteor."

Rendering courtesy of WOW inc

"But what if we all could watch Cassini's life flash before its eyes?"

That's what Erica L. Bernhard, an artist in residence at museum-led incubator NEW INC and the owner of the experience lab Covalent, wondered. She teamed up with WOW, a visual design studio based in Tokyo and London, as well as director Tyler Bowers and artist-director Gabriel Pulecio to give us a humanizing and emotional look at the life of the mission with what they're calling BEYOND CASSINI.

Image courtesy of WOW inc

Just as Cassini dies on the 15th, the live experience aimed at celebrating the life and death of the satellite program will open at hpgrp Gallery New York in TriBeCa. The installation, which is lined with layers of infinity mirrors—a signature design created by Pulecio—will display the stunning visuals and sounds of Saturn recorded by Cassini and offer visitors a dramatic and emotional look at the planet through Cassini's eyes.

Infinity room LED tiling. Courtesy of Gabriel Pulecio

According to WOW, BEYOND CASSINI uses the spacecraft's narrative "to celebrate the accomplishments of one of the most successful and beloved satellites in space exploration history. As Cassini begins its final flight into Saturn's upper atmosphere with a mission of disintegration, visuals flash back through time giving viewers highlights of this dying satellite's life. Fleeting moments and flashbacks allow viewers to celebrate 20 years of Cassini's achievements in a very personal, non-linear, stylized exhibition." The project will also be set to sounds provided by composer and sound designer Jeff Dodson with additional music by Thibault Csukonyi.

Rendering courtesy of WOW inc

It's set to be a stunning live experience. Opening September 15, the exhibition will coincide with NASA's "Grand Finale" event and run through September 27.

Those who aren't in New York might also be in luck, because Cassini's final plunge to Saturn might be visible to telescopes from earth. You can also watch NASA live on USTREAM at 7 AM EST on Friday, as the final messages from Cassini arrive.

Rest in power, Cassini.

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