I was at Caltech in California on September 15 2017, with 1500 other people, colleagues, friends and their families, to witness the «end-of-mission» event for Cassini.
Early in the morning, at 2 am, I got up and drove to the site, the mood was of sober festivity, you might have thought we were gathering for a late night summer open air movie. Stands were handing out memorials and snacks. People were tapping others in the back, smiling,watching the big screen with friendly faces pouring out information and feelings.
Later hugs would start, after the signal got smaller and then stopped completely on the screen, hugs would be necessary to hide the tears, half of them tears of happiness that we had accomplished such a wonderful mission, the rest tears of unavoidable chagrin : after a valiant fight against Saturn’s atmosphere, Cassini’s heart stopped, and we lost a star in the sky, someone who communicated with us for more than 20 years since the launch in October 1997.
Counting my years working on the mission, I realise it’s a full career time, starting since the early 1990s. First a dream, then a reality, now a souvenir. But the memory will linger on, because the notes of the voyage are still here with us, delivered until the very last moment and we will analyse them and interpret them for years to come, as we’re doing with the data from the Huygens mission.
So, good bye Cassini, you are the best ! How will we ever top such a mission? Well, we have ideas, we have new technologies and most of all we have your legacy.