The Cassini Probe

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The Cassini probe launched by NASA in 1997, ended its 20 year journey earlier this September.  It was launched in 1997 from Cape Canaveral Aioons, giving us some of the best data and photographs we have of the gas giant.  Here is a photograph from Cassini:

Photo via NASA

The large rings in top portion of the image are those of Saturn and the small blue dot at the bottom is earth.  All the photographs taken by Cassini are available on NASA’s website.  Despite all of the profound data and knowledge obtained from this probe, it purposely crashed into Saturn.  This was done because Cassini was running low on fuel and if it ran out, it had the potential of being sucked into the orbits of one of Saturn’s moons, and contaminating it for future exploration.  The moon Enceladus has the potential to harbor life with its subsurface oceans, so if the spacecraft crashed into it, we would never know if life was there before the probe, or if it was brought there by Cassini.  The total cost of the Cassini mission was 3.26 billion dollars according to NASA.  You may be thinking to yourself, how can the government afford to spend so much money on a spacecraft just to crash it into Saturn?  

NASA’s annual budget this upcoming year will be close to 19 billion dollars.  That is a huge sum of cash to dump into the space program.  Perhaps dumping isn’t the correct word considering how much the money is spread around the program.  This 19 billion dollar figure includes satellites, space probes, education, telescopes, museums, and many more things that are commonly overlooked.  The economic return that we get on the money spent on NASA is surprisingly incredible.

According to this infographic, every time NASA spends a dollar on any space program or research, between 7 and 14 dollars are returned to the economy, this figure is often overlooked when discussions are had over the governmental funding of scientific research.  The money comes back in many different forms, including technologies from NASA that are brought into the civilian market.  A few examples of NASA technology that we see everyday are memory foam, water filters, and smoke detectors. 

Space exploration does not only serve practical purposes. There is not another thing I can think of that brought the country together like the lunar landing.  Space exploration brings together all of humanity in pushing the boundaries of what is possible for us as a species.  The lunar landing is a great example of this.  When President John F. Kennedy gave his speech regarding the proposition of Americans going to the moon, it brought the country together like never before.  People of all parties, races, and beliefs, in a time of social injustice, were brought together to bring the United States to the moon.  This sense of patriotism that space exploration brings to our country is neglected all too often.

I believe that in time, we can come together as a collective species and unite around the exploration of the stars and beyond.  We can set aside political issues, like the Russian and American astronauts do aboard the space station by working together, to expand our knowledge of the cosmos and make our world a better place.  So the next time you look up into the sky and see the vast expanses of space, think of the possibilities and new horizons that it brings not only for our country but for all of humankind.

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