A Little Christmas Space History

Merry Christmas!

Spacecraft don’t celebrate Christmas (so far as we know), and the laws of motion don’t, either. So it happened that five years ago today — December 25, 2004 — the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe was at the right point in its journey to detach from the Cassini spacecraft and head toward Saturn’s moon, Titan. The Huygens probe landed on Titan on January 14, 2005.

It’s interesting to me that the Cassini spacecraft, which carried Huygens to its rendezvous with Titan and has returned spectacular images of Saturn for the last five years, was launched from Cape Canaveral on a Titan-IVB rocket.

(Cassini-Huygens launch, October 15, 1997. NASA image. Click to enlarge.)

I remember it well; before it was launched, some groups protested because of the radioactive plutonium in Cassini’s radioisotope thermal generators (as noted in this CNN story). Kudos to my old compadres on the Titan team for that successful launch!

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