Reaching speeds of about 77,000 miles per hour, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has successfully dived between Saturn and its rings. Now, it only has to repeat the feat 21 more times.
“No spacecraft has ever been this close to Saturn,” said Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize.
As it dove through the gap, Cassini came within about 1,900 miles of Saturn’s cloud tops, and within 200 miles of the innermost rings.
“I am delighted to report that Cassini shot through the gap just as we planned and has come out the other side in excellent shape,” Maize added.
Cassini passed through the top of Saturn’s atmosphere, where scientists say ring particles in the area are tiny. However, because the spacecraft was going so fast, a small particle hitting a sensitive area could have spelled disaster.
In order to protect itself from space debris, Cassini used one of its larger antenna as a shield, which meant it was out of contact with scientists as it crossed Saturn’s rings. Twenty hours later, and the spacecraft made contact with NASA’s Deep Space Network Goldstone Complex at about 11:56 PDT on Wednesday, April 26.
Cassini is set to dive through the same gap on May 2.