Cassini’s Garden

Wallpaper - Cassini's Garden

Cassini’s Garden

Cassini’s Garden was originally created to commemorate the amazing probe that has been in space for almost 20 years and orbiting Saturn and collecting data since 2004. But, it’s not just the machine, it’s the international group of people that worked together to make the mission happen.

Originally known as Cassini-Huygens, which identifies the Huygens lander that was carried onboard Cassini and successfully touched down on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, on January 14, 2005. Huygens was provided by the European Space Agency (ESA) and along with the Italian space agency, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI) and NASA formed the three partners for the mission. In total there were 17 countries involved in the mission. In all, over five thousand people have touched this mission since its development began in 1990; from engineers, technicians, designers, machinists, scientists, astronomers and a host of other specialists from around the world.

The Cassini mission has exemplified the best of what we can do when we cooperate together; something that is painfully lacking around the world today when it is needed most. The data produced by this mission is available to everyone – everybody on this planet benefits from the international cooperation that gave birth to Cassini-Huygens.

Cassini’s Garden shows a monument to the enduring probe that has been erected on Enceladus sometime in the future when we humans are no longer defined by our differences.

The probe has had a few problems during its tour but nothing that has diminished its mission nor prevented it from being extended two more times after its initial 4 year jaunt. The only thing that has forced Cassini to end its mission now is that it is running out of fuel, and to prevent it from potentially contaminating Titan or Enceladus with microbes from Earth, it will be directed to fly into Saturn on September 15, 2017. Truly a sad day for everyone involved with this noble machine or that have followed its mission over the years.

And, speaking of potential for life, a paper has recently been published discussing the data Cassini has collected from a fly-through of the plums of water ice and gas venting from the small moon Enceladus’ southern pole in October of 2015. This data revealed the presence of molecular hydrogen (H2) in the gas/ice cloud, which was mostly water.  The presence of hydrogen indicates that there may be hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor of Enceladus.  A chemical reaction between the water and the rocks on the ocean floor, driven by the heat could create the hydrogen. This in turn could be used by bacteria as a food source when combined with carbon dioxide dissolved in the water.

The H2 is not direct evidence of life, but compelling evidence that all the right ingredients are there to support life – probably bacterial – like we see around the hydrothermal vents in our oceans. One more feather in Cassini’s cap!  Check out NASA’s website for more information on this.

Cassini’s Finale – Plunging between the inner rings and Saturn’s atmosphere.

With Cassini setting up to dive between the planet and its inner rings later this month as a finale to its mission, we can expect to see some really amazing images and learn more about this majestic ringed planet than ever before. And, as the data is processed and digested we can expect more revelations about this planet in the years to come.

Thank you to the Cassini team for all their hard work and an amazing ride!

For more information check out Cassini’s Grand Finale.

Till next time,

RC Davison

The Cost of Cassini at Saturn

On June 30, 2014 NASA and ESA (European Space Agency), celebrated ten years of unprecedented scientific discoveries of the planet Saturn and its moons by the Cassini-Huygens probe.

Saturn by Cassini showing the prominent hexagonal formation at the north pole. 8-18-14 Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The probe has returned well over 350,000 images of the ringed system; discovered seven new moons orbiting the planet, successfully landed the Huygens probe on the surface of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan; over four thousand research papers have been written based on Cassini’s findings; “tasted” the water from Enceladus’ geysers and will continue to send back data until 2017 when it will be intentionally flown into Saturn’s atmosphere.

When we look at all that Cassini has delivered, one can ask – is it worth the $3.27 billion dollars the mission has cost? That’s a whole lot of money!

Titan and Rhea, Saturn’s largest two moons. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

But, when you consider that the mission actually started development in 1990, the cost turns out to be about $130.8 million per year over the last 25 years. Still a lot of money. But, the cost per person in the United States is about $0.42 per person per year (based on an average populate of the US from 1990 to 2014).

The $3.27 billion is the total mission cost to date, but the United State’s contribution was actually $2.6 billion, the balance being supplied by ESA and the Italian space agency, so the per person cost for the US is actually more like 33 cents per person. The per person contribution gets even smaller when you divide the cost by the populations of the ESA supporting countries.

Yes, $3.27 billion is a lot of money, but when you look at it from the perspective of real cost over time it’s not even the cost of a pack of gum per person per year! The flip side of this expense is that the mission development and support employed over 5000 people. That is money that went back into the economy; it put food on the table, paid bills, stimulated local businesses and economies, new technology development, advanced our

Saturn’s amazing rings! Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

understanding of the Solar System and of the Saturnian system immensely. The most important contribution (albeit the hardest to quantify) was to excite and encourage a new generation of young people to pursue careers in science and technology.  This one item is so very important in today’s competitive world economy. The return-on-investment is still paying off and will so for many years to come.

As a point of reference, the US Defense Department budget for just 1989 was $389 billion dollars!  For 2014 it is $752 billion.  That works out to $2350 per person today!  $3.27 billion over 25 years doesn’t sound quite so big does it?

Saturn back-lit by the Sun with Mars, Venus and Earth. Image credit: -Caltech/SSI

Take a few moments and check out NASA and ESA’s sites for Cassini and take a look at the amazing images that have been sent back by this enduring probe.  After all, you paid for it!

Check out this video for what to expect for the rest of Cassini’s mission at Saturn.

Till next time,

RC Davison

NASA’s Proposed 2013 Budget – NOT An Investment In Our Future!

The Obama administration released its 2013 proposed budget for NASA.  A step in the wrong direction!!

If one looks at the fact that NASA’s budget of $17.7 billion is 0.47% of the proposed national budget of $3.8 trillion, and they’re proposing a cut of .3% of NASA’s 2012 budget, which works out to $59 million. Now, is that $59 million really going to help reduce the national debt—or will it just get lost in the pork-barrel legislation that seems to be prevalent? When you consider the impact it has on NASA and its plans for future space exploration and the benefits it will bring, is it really worth it? These projects stimulate employment and provide opportunities for technological spinoffs that can further stimulate the economy. And, we’re not even talking about the educational benefits by getting young people interested in and excited about science and engineering.

Speaking of education. Why in the world, with our decaying education system, would you cut NASA’s education budget? Cut by $36 million from 2012’s allotment of $136 million—26%! We have no business cutting any educational programs. If we want to save money we should be looking at how we can run them more efficiently and put more children into the programs. This is an investment in our future. Our 401K for the nation is the education of the children today. We can’t afford to let our technical edge get any duller than it is now.

Consider the benefits of raising NASA’s budget by just $59 million (.001% of the national budget). We would be joining the European Space Agency in two missions to Mars in 2016 and 2018. We would be able to expand the educational programs and further development of flagship mission that push the boundaries of space exploration. Just think about what we have learned from the Pioneers, Voyagers, Cassini, Galileo, the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity to name a few.

I know times are tough. I feel it every day as does everyone else. But, our government seems to be flailing about in a panic to leave nothing untouched in the effort to reduce the budget. Is that for the good of the country or just PR for the next elections? It seems to be Republicans pointing fingers at Democrats and visa-versa. Aren’t we all on the same team—team USA? I don’t get the feeling that we are seriously weighing the consequences of some of these cuts, the perceived benefits we see today won’t pay off tomorrow.

If we don’t carefully invest in our future, our future will be very bleak indeed…

Check this link to Universe Today for a review of the budget.

Till next time,

RC Davison