Friday's death run

This coming Friday morning, early morning our time, will be the end of it all for one of mankind's most successful spacecraft. Cassini will crash into Saturn, pushed there, on purpose, by its creators here on Earth.

They say Cassini will be a victim of its own success. On its many orbits around the ringed planet, it discovered things unimaginable to homo faber when we launched it at the beginning of the second Bill Clinton administration. It discovered oceans on Saturn's moons with molecules that could hold, or mean, life. It found underground oceans and spotted geysers and detected ingredients for living things. Maybe.

So, as it ran out of fuel, its creators decided it couldn't be allowed to be knocked off target and crash into one of those moons. We shouldn't contaminate those surfaces with Earth matter, lest something microscopic leak out to devastating effect. So the spacecraft has been sent on a suicide mission, aimed at the planet itself, which will burn it up completely as it takes its last pictures. Call it a grand finale.

What a long, strange trip it's been. That is, about 750 million miles. Thank you, Cassini. For those of us who've always been fascinated by space exploration, you've been a wonder. Or, as we say closer to Earth, you done good.

Editorial on 09/12/2017

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