I left that Cassini talk determined to be about astronomy.
At least 150 students, faculty and staff gathered before dawn for bagels, beverages and a ringside seat, via a live feed from NASA TV, of the last gasp - in the form of a lost signal from space -- as Cassini lost its battle with Saturn's atmosphere and incinerated on a final dive into the ringed planet. "We couldn't have expected better, and it's been a privilege to be involved with this extraordinary mission". The data took 84 minutes to reach NASA antennas in Canberra, Australia, Maize said. The connection is strong, and we wait for it to fade. "This will be the second instrument that I worked on to go into a neighboring planet".
"Thanks and farewell, faithful explorer", Maize said. There are no cheers.
That last communication was displayed as a green spike of data on a screen above mission control.
"The capability of "seeing" the global magnetosphere and creating movies of its dynamics was a brand new capability at any planet other than Earth and has led to many insights and discoveries that would have been either impossible, or only accomplished through inference without the INCA ENA imager", said Don Mitchell, MMI's principal investigator and a member of APL's Space Exploration Sector. For numerous scientists and engineers who worked on the mission, it was a defining part of their lives and careers to which they were passionately devoted. "I'm going to call this the end of mission", said Maize, once the signal disappeared.
Cassini kept working right up until its final hours. Congratulations to you all. "Almost like we've taken a magnifying glass to the planet and the rings". They put their career into Cassini and today it's coming to an end.
A European Space Agency probe carried by the orbiter, called Huygens, made worldwide headlines when it landed on Titan, the largest of Saturn's moons, in January 2005.
Cassini's plunge brings to a close a series of 22 weekly "Grand Finale" dives between Saturn and its rings, a feat never before attempted by any spacecraft. "This has been an incredible mission, an incredible spacecraft, and you're all an incredible team". Cassini wasn't sterilized before it departed Earth, and while the the chances were slim it would ever impact either moon, there was still a chance.
It's not hard to find reasons for Cassini being one of the most, if not the most successful planetary science mission to date. Along the way, the spacecraft made countless other discoveries about the planet's rings, moons and atmosphere.
When Mate Adamkovics' astronomy and physics students go on to brilliant careers, they can attribute at least part of their professional knowledge to a handsome workhorse of a 20 Century spaceship called Cassini. The spacecraft's discoveries included seasonal changes on Saturn, a hexagon-shaped pattern on its north pole and the moon Titan's resemblance to a primordial Earth. This daredevil dance gave scientists an unprecedented look at Saturn's roiling atmosphere.
In nearly 20 years in space - nine short of a year on Saturn - the craft collected 635 gigabytes of data, according to NASA.
With the loss of Cassini, the space around Saturn has gone dark. And stay tuned for a sequel. Cassini's most important legacy will be its huge archive of scientific data from many different instruments. It took more than 450,000 images and flew 4.9 billion miles.
"We've completely rewritten the textbooks about Saturn". There won't be more like them until we decide to go back.
Still, all good things must end, and NASA's mission statement is "to pioneer the future in space exploration".
"There are times in this world when things just line up, when everything is just about flawless".
Cassini truly was a flagship mission.