Cassini signs off after 13 years of orbiting Saturn

NASA/Handout via REUTERSFILE PHOTO: The spacecraft Cassini is pictured above Saturn's northern hemisphere prior to making one of its Grand Finale dives in this NASA handout illustration obtained by Reuters August 29, 2017.

After 13 years of orbiting and studying Saturn, Cassini was intentionally destroyed as it went into Saturn's atmosphere this week.

Cassini was an unmanned robotic spacecraft which was a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency that was sent to the planet Saturn.

It was launched on Oct 15, 1997. Cassini was the fourth space probe to visit Saturn and was the first to enter its orbit in 2004.

Cassini was able to discover a lot about Saturn, including the discovery of a second ocean on its moon, Titan. It was also able to discover eight new moons of Saturn and was able to provide pictures of the "death star" Mimas.

But after six and a half years after completing its initial mission, NASA decided to crash Cassini by plunging it into Saturn's atmosphere.

"Congratulations to you all. This has been an incredible mission, an incredible spacecraft and you're all an incredible team. I'm going to call this the end of mission. Project manager off the net," Earl Maize, NASA controller said.

NASA Cassini project scientist Linda Spiker said she was overwhelmed with emotion because the Cassini Mission was sort of a marathon and that she considered it a success.

Thirty people were chosen via application to be at the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex in Australia to witness the final moments of Cassini.

NASA decided to vaporize the spacecraft to avoid the threat of the probe and its radioactive power source to crash and contaminate one of Saturn's moons.

After Cassini, NASA has no plans yet if another spacecraft will be sent to Saturn. However, it specified categories of missions it would consider in a scientific competition called New Frontiers.

Some of the missions include a probe to study Saturn's atmosphere or a mission to go to Saturn's two famous moons, Titan or Enceladus.