In an image sent from NASA's Cassini spacecraft July 19, 2013, the planet Saturn is backlit by the sun. After 20 years in space and several months of ducking between Saturn and its rings, Cassini will cross the final frontier and end its mission by diving straight into the ringed planet's atmosphere.
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...
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