Cassini successfully arrives at Saturn
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: July 1, 2004; Updated at 2:10 a.m. EDT
NASA's $3.3 billion Cassini probe completed a seven-year, 2.2-billion mile
voyage tonight, firing its main engine for a nerve-wracking 96 minutes to
successfully brake into orbit around the ringed planet Saturn.
Throughout the all-or-nothing rocket firing, flight controllers at NASA's
Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., could only sit and wait,
monitoring events that had already taken place 934 million miles away.
At that distance, radio signals, moving at 186,000 miles per second,
needed an hour and 24 minutes to complete a one-way trip between Saturn
and Earth. As a result, Cassini's on-board computer was responsible for
carrying out the most critical maneuver since launch Oct. 15, 1997, a
maneuver that simply had to work or the mission would end in failure.
To everyone's relief, Cassini's main engine fired up on time at 10:36 p.m.
EDT and shut down at 12:12 a.m., putting the craft in its planned initial
orbit around Saturn.
"Flight, telecom," the Cassini communications officer called out. "The
Doppler has flattened out."
Translation: Cassini's engine had shut down and Cassini was in orbit.
Flight controllers burst into cheers, sharing hugs and high fives as
Cassini lived up to its reputation for near flawless operation.
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