Apr 24, 2017: Titan 'Rev 270' Raw Preview - NASA's Cassini spacecraft has made its last close brush with Saturn's hazy moon Titan and is now beginning its final set of 22 orbits around the ringed planet. These raw, unprocessed images of Titan, were taken on April 22, 2017. (Image Advisory can be found here.)
"There are times when human language is inadequate, when emotions choke the mind, when the magnitude of events cannot properly be conveyed by the same syllables we use to navigate everyday life. Last night, the evening of June 30, 2004 was such a time."
These words, composed ten years ago, are mine. They began what was to be a record of the climactic events, and my thoughts about them, that capped fourteen years of obsessive dedication and set a course for my life and the lives of many others. As I read them now, I fall again into the stupefying, nonverbal state of consciousness that came over me that night: a disorienting whirl of impressions, from a calming, almost numbing, sense of relief to brain-befuddling "We're not in Kansas anymore" astonishment.
On the night of June 30, 2004, we flawlessly guided ourselves into orbit around Saturn, and in doing so, took up residence in the house of the Sun's most glorious planet. Our long voyage to this faraway place was over, and we were about to embark on a scientific exploration that would make history. It was hard to take it all in. I was certain that evening there was nothing we could not do.
The last decade has been the kind that can define a human life. Wandering a distant, alien wilderness of endlessly moving worlds, all of us under the commanding and splendidly garlanded presence at its center, one can surely be forgiven for feelings of rapture and sacred calling. It changes you. It has changed me.
So, today, I will think about it all ... setting the ship to sail that night on the high seas of Saturn, the magnificence and deep knowledge with which we have since been rewarded, and how we have come so intimately to know this remote sector of the solar system in which we now reside.
And I will leave with all of you the entirety of my words, written to document the transforming events that surrounded that night ten years ago. They tell of just one life about to live one of the greatest adventures humanity has ever undertaken. They tell of a conviction, born of history and observation, that there is nothing we cannot do.
Carolyn Porco Cassini Imaging Team Leader Director, CICLOPS Boulder, CO