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Sep 10, 2017 | 13:09 GMT

1 min read

Cassini Crosses the Final Frontier: A Visual Anthology

In an image sent from NASA's Cassini spacecraft July 19, 2013, the planet Saturn is backlit by the sun.
(NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Getty Images)
Editor's Note:

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has transmitted thousands of images back to Earth while chronicling its voyage through the solar system and into Saturn's orbit. But its 20-year mission is nearing its end. The spacecraft will plunge into the ringed planet's atmosphere Sept. 15, sending data for as long as it can until it disintegrates.

At first glance, space science may not seem to have obvious geopolitical relevance. When it comes to breakthrough discoveries that alter the course of events on Earth, however, the end goal of a space mission is only the tip of the iceberg. Space science regularly spurs valuable advancements that help humans live long and prosper at home, and it is responsible for such innovations as improved computer software and new imaging technologies. Furthermore, strength in areas related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics remains a key indicator of a country's future competitiveness. Projects like the Cassini mission are a valuable opportunity to captivate the minds of younger generations, leading them to mathematics, the sciences, infinity and beyond.

On Aug. 15, 1997, NASA technician Dan Maynard places a CD into a compartment on the Cassini spacecraft at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA technician Dan Maynard places a CD into a compartment on the Cassini spacecraft at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 15, 1997.

(BRUCE WEAVER/AFP/Getty Images)
The Titan IV-B launch vehicle carries the Cassini spacecraft and attached Huygens Titan probe through the early morning clouds and into space at Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Oct. 15, 1997, kicking off the probe's seven-year journey to Saturn.

In a beam of light, the Titan IV-B launch vehicle carries the Cassini spacecraft and attached Huygens Titan probe through early morning clouds and into space at Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Oct. 15, 1997, kicking off the probe's seven-year journey to Saturn.

(BRUCE WEAVER/AFP/Getty Images)
Cassini made its closest approach to Saturn's pockmarked moon, Mimas -- nicknamed the "Death Star"-- on Jan. 30, 2017.

Cassini made its closest approach to Saturn's pockmarked moon, Mimas -- nicknamed the "Death Star" -- on Jan. 30, 2017.

(NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/Getty Images)
Cassini captured this shot of Saturn's rings, bands of icy particles spread over a vast area, with its wide-angle camera July 21, 2016. Mimas is visible on the bottom left.

Cassini captured this shot of Saturn's rings -- bands of icy particles spread over a vast area -- with its wide-angle camera July 21, 2016. Mimas is visible on the bottom left.

(NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/Getty Images)
In this image captured by Cassini on April 2, 2016, Saturn's moons Dione (L) and Epimetheus (R) appear above the sunlit side of the planet's rings.

Saturn's moons Dione (L) and Epimetheus (R) appear above the sunlit side of the planet's rings. Cassini captured this image April 2, 2016.

(NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/Getty Images)
In this image of Saturn from May 16, 2004, the narrow-angle camera on Cassini's Imaging Science Subsystem was too close to fit the entire planet in its field of view.

Cassini's narrow-angle camera was too close to Saturn to fit the entire planet in this shot from May 16, 2004.

(NASA/Getty Images)
Cassini captured this image of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, in ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths.

Cassini captured this image of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, in ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths. On Jan. 14, 2004, the Huygens probe landed on Titan, setting the record for the greatest distance from Earth that a spacecraft has landed.

(NASA/Getty Images)
Saturn's icy moon, Tethys, is visible below the planet's south pole, which is marked by swirling storms made up of clouds and ribbons of gas.

In this picture from Nov. 23, 2004, Saturn's icy moon, Tethys, is visible below the planet's south pole, which is marked by swirling storms made up of clouds and ribbons of gas.

(HO/AFP/Getty Images)
Cassini caught a high-resolution glimpse of the two hemispheres of Saturn's moon Iapetus on Sept. 10, 2017.

Cassini captured this high-resolution glimpse of the dark side of Saturn's moon Iapetus -- and, for the first time, the bright side as well -- on Sept. 10, 2017. The dark region on Iapetus is called its leading hemisphere, while the bright region is called its trailing hemisphere.

(NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute/Wikimedia Commons)
From several high-resolution images, Cassini produced the most detailed global color portrait of Jupiter ever assembled on Dec. 9, 2000.

From several high-resolution images, Cassini produced the most detailed global color portrait of Jupiter ever assembled on Dec. 9, 2000.

(NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute/Wikimedia Commons)

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