Cassini—How a Mission to Saturn Became a Triumph Over Evil

On October 15, 1997, NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency together launched the Cassini-Huygens probe to study the planet Saturn. The mission would last more than 18 years, with 13 of those years spent orbiting and studying Saturn and its system, all the while feeding vital scientific discoveries back to Earth.

The Cassini team
The Cassini team in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The Cassini team was unbelievably fortunate, their consciousness expanded by millions of miles daily. Imagine if every single one of us could see that far—how much more understanding would there be?

That mission came to an end recently when the team directed Cassini to fly into Saturn’s upper atmosphere and burn up.

From a scientific viewpoint, the mission was wildly successful. In fact, the team leaders described it as perfect and beyond their wildest dreams.

Cassini itself
The Cassini-Huygens probe

But there is another aspect of Cassini and its mission that is also perfect.

On the end-of-mission day, the team leaders held a press conference and I happened to be lucky enough to get to watch it.

It was the most hopeful and uplifting thing I have seen on TV in decades. And I am not exaggerating.

I was moved when one of the panelists answered a journalist who asked if losing Cassini was sad. She said that most of all she would miss her team, she would miss her Cassini family; they would no longer see each other every day and that would be difficult. I get that. This amazing team brought out what is best in Man: an insatiable curiosity for the unknown; marshaling forces to accomplish something never done before; becoming a family by choice because of a shared, high purpose.

But, by far, the most significant moment of that conference, for me, was when another panelist answered the same question by saying that what she would miss most is being next to Saturn every day—that every day she and her team were looking at Saturn some 750 million miles away or more, and that now she was just here. And I got that too. The Cassini team was unbelievably fortunate, their consciousness expanded by millions of miles daily. Imagine if every single one of us could see that far—how much more understanding would there be?

Picture of storm on Saturn
A photo taken by Cassini of a storm on Saturn (colors modified)

Maybe Todd Barber, lead propulsion engineer for Cassini said it best: “That just gives me tremendous pride to lift people up for that one minute and just show there’s something beyond our petty problems on planet Earth, that there’s this excitement and beauty in the cosmos.”

The Cassini project transcended barriers between countries, ethnicities and religions. It united people in a shared vision and common purpose. There was no place for hate, bigotry, racism and imagined difference. It exemplified our ability to work together, dream together, and so make the incredible happen.

It reminded me that there is much to love and admire about us. We are dreamers, we are creators, we are hopeful, and we are basically good.

The chaos and division instilled in us through television screens and newspaper headlines are an illusion created by a few who then feed on the unhappiness of those they have deflated. They rejoice in our misery and feel elevated when others are down.

They feature a few discontented and hateful individuals. They spread their lies in a most convincing manner.

Fear-mongering newspapers

We are shown nine looters who take advantage of a natural disaster while hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteers helping others are ignored. We are constantly told of murder and mayhem committed by a few, while the billions are disregarded—those who go about their daily lives, smiling at one other and caring for their families and friends. We are fed stories of fatal conflicts between world powers while their populations just want to get on with life in peace. We are shown a TV show slandering a bona fide religion a la Nazi Germany and are told it is a “documentary” worthy of an award.

We are being manipulated. We are being made to hate. We are being led like lambs to the slaughter of our goodness.

And what do we gain from listening to those few sad souls who insanely attack anything good? We are made upset, uptight, made to fight amongst each other, and, worst of all, our thoughts are controlled while we think they are our own.

It is high time we fight back. It is high time we say: no more. I will think for myself, thank you very much. You can take your evil and shove it into the dark corner of your shriveled soul.

Cassini reminded me that we are good and we have hope. We believe in what is best in mankind. We believe that together we can reach the stars and behold with wonder the mysteries of a vast universe that is but a mirror of the infinite beauty of our souls.

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