The Worst Part of Losing Cassini Is That It Has No Replacement


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Link here. This article is an honest review of the current lack of concrete plans by anyone to send a new probe to Saturn. While there are some tentative missions in the works, nothing is certain.

[I]f looking back on Cassini’s major discoveries at Saturn, Titan, and Enceladus have left you thirsty for more, we have some bad news: That thirst is going to go unquenched for a while. Talks of Uranus and Neptune missions are tentative at best. The best hope for Saturn now comes from NASA’s New Frontiers program, which looks for excellent medium-cost missions has spawned spacecraft including Jupiter’s Juno and Pluto’s New Horizons. This round of New Frontiers missions must launch by 2024, and there are two Enceladus proposals, a Titan proposal, and a Saturn atmospheric probe under consideration. We may hear word about those proposals by the end of the year “Hang tight, we’re going through the evaluations now and we’ll be announcing at the end of the year what some of the finalists will be,” Jim Green, NASA Planetary Science Director, said at the Cassini press conference Friday morning.

This list of possible Saturn missions sounds great, but they are all competing against each other and a number of other equally (and possibly more) interesting missions to other places. And with the federal budget out of control and mired in debt, there isn’t really a lot of money to go around.

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13 comments

  • pzatchok

    I don’t understand the reason for dropping Cassini into the planet.

    Well, yes I do, to kill any life it might have on board so it doesn’t infect any of the moons in case of accidental impact.
    But didn’t they just infect the atmosphere of the planet?

    One of the theories is that Mars and Earth might have exchanged DNA/RNA in the past by extreme meteor impacts. Or the fringe idea that life started outside the solar system and came here by asteroid.

    So if life can be exchanged between Mars and Earth exactly what is the reasoning that it hasn’t already been exchanged among all the planets?

    So if life can be naturally exchanged in the past why not now? It could be happening right now to day.
    And what is the plan to differentiate between new and old life forms on other planets. If they do not have one in place they need to make one.
    Contamination WILL happen in the near future. Its unstoppable.
    So in my opinion all these efforts to stop it are just excuses to slow down exploration and raise its costs.

    By the way I look at any biological contamination from Earth as just a good start to transforming. And and as a second depository for life in case of a planet wide catastrophe on Earth.

  • pzatchok

    Terra forming not transforming.

  • Lee S.

    Cassini was out of fuel, and burnt up in Saturns atmosphere, sterilizing it in the process…
    Apart from Titan, the other moons have no atmosphere worth discussing, so there is a chance that bacteria could survive an impact with say Enceladus….
    No conspiracy theories required here… it all makes perfect and logical sense.

  • Lee S.

    Forgot to add…. its very possible for Martian rocks to end up on Earth, as they are traveling down the gravity well towards the sun, possible, but harder and more unlikely for ejecta from earth to reach mars, and highly bloody unlikely for a piece of earth rock containing viable bacteria to make the journey uphill past the orbits of Mars, the asteroid belt, and Jupiter, and land intact on one of Saturns moons…

  • Steve Earle

    What about Huygens? Isn’t it still sitting on Titans surface, “infecting” it as we speak?

  • Lee S.

    If I recall correctly, Huygens was much deeper cleaned than Cassini ( I could be wrong… it’s been a while…)
    The real problem is Enceladus, which potentially has liquid water very close to the surface…
    Titan has a very complex and intriguing environment, and while there is undoubtedly the exciting possibility of life NOT as we know it on the surface ..( liquid hydrocarbons replacing water as the universal solvent ) … Earthly bacteria would have a hard time surviving there, let alone thriving.

  • pzatchok

    Dropping something infected onto an airless body has little to no chance of the infection spreading. No wind. No liquid. So unless you land directly on the only spot with native life on it you have even less chance of killing any off.

    But they could have left Cassini in a stable orbit and received data for the next 10 or more years.
    Instead they wanted a few more fancy flyby’s and thus used up the fuel for a stable orbit.

    It also frees up most of the ground personnel and facilities for something else or just saving money.

    But the excuse of infection is stupid. Unless some aliens told NASA to leave the area alone.

  • Lee S.

    Pzatchok, Titan has Wind, atmosphere and liquid, Enceladus has liquid water very close to the surface in the Southern Hemisphere, the mission ran for a decade longer than planned… to imply conspiracy is to do the guys who have lived and breathed this breathtaking mission a massive disservice…
    There are many lies worth getting passionate about…. the end of Cassini in a fireball in Saturns atmosphere is not one of them.

  • pzatchok

    I have said NOTHING about some conspiracy.

    Just laziness.

    If dropping it into Saturn was to save ground crew cash then just say so.

    And to use ‘it outlived its expected lifetime’ is a real poor excuse. That is like throwing away a 2.5 million dollar car because it was only expected to operate for 2 years.

    Lets just stop operating all the Mars rovers, they have outlived their life expectancy.

    Exactly how much ground crew does it take to receive data and store it for use by others?

  • Steve Earle

    I have several non “Tech-woke” friends (space-woke?, astro-woke? work with me here guys…I’m trying to coin a phrase…LOL) who had little to no idea that Cassini even existed or that we had a probe at Saturn at all.

    Those same friends are talking this week about Cassini and it’s “Death Dive” courtesy of all the media attention and TV coverage. That kind of PR is pure gold for NASA and ESA.

    If I had to guess, I would bet there were two groups lobbying for Cassini’s somewhat early demise: One group that really really really wanted to do the extra-dangerous Ring dives that might destroy the probe, and one group that knew the PR value of diving thru the Rings and then, if the Probe survived, into the planet itself, would be a huge boost for funding a follow-on mission.

    Leaving Cassini in a stable orbit for a few more years to die a quiet death would never have gotten the same attention.

  • Lee S.

    I genuinely think that you guys are reading much more into this than is needed…
    I’ll grant that it could theoretically be possible to put Cassini in some form of stable orbit around Saturn, and continue taking pretty pictures, although I’m guessing they would be from quite afar, but there would be no moon flybyes, indeed the orbit would have to be way out the way of anything interesting….
    Galileo met the same fate at the end of its mission around Jupiter, as will Juno…
    I recommend listening to the latest Astronomycast podcast where Dr Pamela Gay and Fraiser Cane have a 30 min or so discussion on this very subject.

  • wodun

    No liquid. So unless you land directly on the only spot with native life on it you have even less chance of killing any off.

    I think a concern is that Earth bugs could survive and grow, meaning that future missions to find life would have to determine if the life form was native or a transplant.

    A problem with any prolonged mission is that it costs a lot to process the data. Maintaining a staff is expensive. I seem to recall a couple examples posted here of things being shut off because continuing operations was just too expensive on Earth and not because the vehicle was dead/dying.

  • Edward

    wodun wrote: “A problem with any prolonged mission is that it costs a lot to process the data.

    In addition to this cost is the cost of using the Deep Space Network (DSN). Imagine if every probe that we sent out were still actively sending back data. The DSN would have to be much larger than it is and scheduling all the different data dumps would be complex. Solving these two problems are possible but is expensive, and that money could be used to fund new probes that will produce terabytes (petabytes?) of newer and more interesting data.

    There are a few old probes that we continue to query on occasion, such as the Voyagers 1 and 2, but they are providing us with interesting new information, such as data concerning the edge of the Solar System through an extended mission called the Voyager Interstellar Mission. They and New Horizons are in unique positions in the Solar System, or maybe I should say “out of the Solar System.”

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