On Friday, September 15, around 7:55 am EDT, NASA watched its 20-year-old, $4 billion-plus spacecraft to crash into Saturn.
The space agency really has no other choice. Cassini is nearly out of fuel, and has already been stretched years beyond its intended mission duration. What’s more, keeping it going risks potentially contaminating one of Saturn’s moons — like Enceladus, an ice world that has some ingredients for life, or Titan, a dynamic moon where it rains methane — with microbes from Earth.
And so the spacecraft will end its existence by literally going where no human-made object has gone before: into Saturn’s atmosphere.