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Goodbye Cassini: Saturn spacecraft gets funny opera send-off 

By: MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer
September 13, 2017 Updated: September 13, 2017 at 6:19 pm
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photo - IMay 11, 2017

The projection of Saturn's shadow on the rings grows shorter as Saturn’s season advances toward northern summer, thanks to the planet's permanent tilt as it orbits the sun. This will continue until Saturn's solstice in May 2017. At that point in time, the shadow will extend only as far as the innermost A ring, leaving the middle and outer A ring completely free of the planet's shadow.

Over the course of the Cassini mission, the shadow of Saturn first lengthened steadily until equinox in August 2009. Since then, the shadow has been shrinking. These changes can be seen by comparing the shadow in the above view to its appearance as Cassini approached Saturn in 2004 (Ringworld Waiting), equinox in 2009 (The Rite of Spring), and two years ago, in 2015 (Barely Bisected Rings).

This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 10 degrees above the ring plane. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Feb. 3, 2017. 

The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 760,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from Saturn. Image scale is 46 miles (73 kilometers) per pixel.

The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and http://www.nasa.gov/cassini . The Cassini imaging team homepage is at http://ciclops.org .

Credit
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
IMay 11, 2017 The projection of Saturn's shadow on the rings grows shorter as Saturn’s season advances toward northern summer, thanks to the planet's permanent tilt as it orbits the sun. This will continue until Saturn's solstice in May 2017. At that point in time, the shadow will extend only as far as the innermost A ring, leaving the middle and outer A ring completely free of the planet's shadow. Over the course of the Cassini mission, the shadow of Saturn first lengthened steadily until equinox in August 2009. Since then, the shadow has been shrinking. These changes can be seen by comparing the shadow in the above view to its appearance as Cassini approached Saturn in 2004 (Ringworld Waiting), equinox in 2009 (The Rite of Spring), and two years ago, in 2015 (Barely Bisected Rings). This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 10 degrees above the ring plane. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Feb. 3, 2017. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 760,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from Saturn. Image scale is 46 miles (73 kilometers) per pixel. The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and http://www.nasa.gov/cassini . The Cassini imaging team homepage is at http://ciclops.org . Credit NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute 

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA's Cassini spacecraft is getting a grand but hilarious opera send-off before it plunges through Saturn's atmosphere and vaporizes Friday.

An actor from TV's old "Star Trek: Voyager" series, Robert Picardo, said he dashed off the lyrics in about a minute, several weeks ago. He collaborated with the creative director of The Planetary Society, and, presto, "Le Cassini Opera" was born.

Picardo set the words to the instantly recognizable aria "La Donna e mobile" from Verdi's "Rigoletto."

While Cassini's 20-year mission has been "a serious success," Picardo said the opera is definitely a comedy. Here's how it opens: "Goodbye, Cassini. Your mission's fini. Bravo, Cassini! Have some linguini." And on it goes, paying humorous tribute.

"No tragedy here. All good things — NASA missions, 'Star Trek' series, turkey and Swiss sandwiches with avocado — come to an end," Picardo told The Associated Press.

Cassini's program manager, Earl Maize, loves the performance.

"It's very heartwarming to us," Maize told reporters Wednesday at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

"Part of what we try to do is to extend everybody out to Saturn. It's not science for the ivory tower. It's for humanity, and so everybody to get on the ride, come with us, is just phenomenal."

That was Picardo's goal, too. A longtime fan of both space and opera, he merged those interests in "Star Trek: Voyager" as the holographic doctor who bursts into song. It seemed fitting that he celebrate Cassini in song, too. He actually got to see Cassini's hitchhiking moon lander, the European Huygens, before it left Earth in 1997.

Picardo said Wednesday from Beverly Hills, California, that he sang "Le Cassini Opera" through twice. Five minutes, and that was a wrap.

"It was definitely a seat-of-the-pants production," he said.

Picardo, who's on the board of the Planetary Society, an advocacy group for space exploration, said he's delighted that the opera has been so well received

The Cassini-Huygens duo arrived at Saturn in 2004. Cassini remained in orbit around the ringed planet, as Huygens parachuted onto Titan, its biggest moon, in early 2005.

Cassin faces a deliberately fiery end on Friday. Its fuel tank essentially empty and its mission complete, Cassini will burn up like a meteor in Saturn's sky.

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