Cassini mission engineers are referring to its final pass by Titan as ‘the goodbye kiss,’ a phrase that sounds like something from a Raymond Chandler novel. Maybe it’s the juxtaposition of intimacy and death that Chandler exploited so well. In any case, what counts in the last of Cassini’s hundreds of passes over Titan in its 13-year exploration of the system is the gravitational nudge that is sending the spacecraft into Saturn’s atmosphere tomorrow.
“Cassini has been in a long-term relationship with Titan, with a new rendezvous nearly every month for more than a decade,” said Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “This final encounter is something of a bittersweet goodbye, but as it has done throughout the mission, Titan’s gravity is once again sending Cassini where we need it to go.”
Closest approach for the final pass at Titan occurred at 1504 EDT (1904 UTC) on September 12, at an altitude of 119,049 kilometers, with data streaming back to Earth containing science and trajectory information that confirms Cassini’s course for the Saturn atmosphere entry.
Image: One final look. This unprocessed image of Saturn’s moon Titan was taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft ...