The Huygens probe was successfully launched from the Cassini spacecraft on Christmas Day.
Cassini used springs to gently push the 705-pound probe away late Friday at a rate of one foot per second, sending it on a three-week free-fall toward Titan. Cassini will make a course change next week to avoid following the probe into the moon’s atmosphere.
The probe’s successful launch from Cassini put smiles on the faces of scientists in the control room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
“This was a big one partly because we had to do this right or no mission at all,” said David Southwood, the European Space Agency’s science program director.
A detailed analysis of the release was under way, but there were no indications of any problems, said Earl Maize, the Cassini deputy program manager at JPL. “We are quite confident we had a very clean release,” he said.
Titan is the only moon in the solar system known to have a significant atmosphere. Rich with nitrogen and containing about 6 percent methane, the atmosphere is 1 1/2 times thicker than Earth’s.
The Huygens probe will arrive at Titan on January 14, 2005, where it will begin a 2 1/2 hour descent through Titan’s murky atmosphere before landing on the surface of Saturn’s mysterious moon. I posted about the Cassini mission to Saturn earlier this month, including some amazing images captured by the spacecraft’s cameras. The following photo was taken on Christmas Day.
Cassini’s Holiday Greetings
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute