NASA extends Cassini’s Saturn mission

WASHINGTON (UPI) — The U.S. space agency announced Tuesday it is extending the Cassini-Huygens mission — scheduled to end in July — by two years.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the spacecraft’s stunning discoveries and images of Saturn have revolutionized our knowledge of that planet and its moons.

The two-year extension will include 60 additional orbits of Saturn and more flybys of its moons, including 26 flybys of Titan; seven of Enceladus; and one each of Dione, Rhea and Helene. NASA said the extension also includes studies of Saturn’s rings, its complex magnetosphere, and the planet itself. During the extended mission, the spacecraft might come as close as 15 miles from Enceladus’ surface.

Based on findings from Cassini, scientists now think liquid water might be just beneath the surface of Saturn’s moon, Enceladus. That’s why the small moon is one of the highest priority targets for the extended mission, NASA said.

Launched Oct. 15, 1997, Cassini has been in Saturn’s system for nearly four years, completing 62 revolutions around the planet and returning nearly 140,000 images and related data to Earth.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

Copyright 2008 by United Press International
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