NASA’s spacecraft Cassini will conclude its 20-year voyage of space exploration in a terminal blaze of glory through Saturn’s atmosphere on Friday.
Now that is has used up almost every bit of its rocket propellant, the space agency said, operators will deliberately plunge Cassini into the planet to ensure its moons remain pristine for future exploration.
The mission has broken considerable amounts of new ground, providing invaluable data about Saturn, its moons, famous rings and the possibility of life beyond Earth.
It was revealed that Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons, contains many ingredients needed for life, causing scientists to re-evaluate their approach to space exploration.
The mission began in 1997, when Cassini was launched from Florida, and has cost $3.9bn (£3bn).
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s science mission directorate, said: “Cassini has transformed our thinking in so many ways.
“Congratulations to the entire Cassini team.”
NASA will be extracting every last detail of data from Cassini as it disappears forever above one of the Earth’s most recognisable – and now less mysterious – neighbours.