Cassini Heads to Saturn

Fifteen years ago today — October 15, 1997 — the Cassini/Huygens mission launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard a Titan IVB/Centaur rocket.

(Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, in front of the ringed planet. NASA image from the Cassini spacecraft.)

The Cassini orbiter and the Huygens lander were launched together, and since Huygens was destined to land on Titan it was appropriate that they launched on a Titan vehicle. Huygens, built by the European Space Agency, landed on Titan in January 2005.

The Cassini launch was somewhat controversial: the orbiter is powered by three radioisotope thermal generators, and the mission faced protestors who were afraid the launch vehicle would fail and the RTGs’ plutonium dioxide fuel would end up in the ocean. Having spent a good portion of my assignment at Edwards AFB working on the Titan 34D Recovery Program, and then serving from 1993-95 in the Titan System Program Office at Vandenberg AFB, I was very pleased when this launch succeeded flawlessly.

For current mission status, and access to dozens of spectacular images like the one above, visit this Jet Propulsion Laboratory page or the main Cassini mission page.

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