Special Programme in Science (SPS)

SPS's support in the Cassini Scientist for a Day Videoconference 2017 edition

On 27 May 2017, with the sponsorship of ST Electronics, Astrobargains and SPS, Astronomy.SG organized a videoconference for students with two of the key figures involved in NASA's Cassini mission, Dr. Allan Y. Lee and Dr. Morgan L. Cable. This event was particularly significant as this year was Cassini's final year in operation.

Figure 1: Dr. Allan Lee (left) and Dr. Morgan Cable (right) answering questions from the audience. Image credit: NUS CIT

Dr Lee supported the design, build, test, launch and mission operations of the Cassini spacecraft, and during his distinguished career, had been awarded two NASA Exceptional Service Medals. Dr. Cable is the Project Science Systems Engineer for the Cassini mission, which has been exploring the Saturn system for over 10 years.

During the videoconference, Dr. Cable shared that the Cassini grand finale objectives included carrying out some unique scientific experiments, such as performing magnetic and gravity high-order moment measurements to understand Saturn's internal structure; measure Saturn's ring mass to address the age of the rings; and perform in-situ measurements of the ionosphere and inner radiation belts.

As this was the last year of the Cassini mission, the burning question every student had in mind, naturally, was what should be done with the Cassini spacecraft? Dr. Lee highlighted that NASA's goal was to avoid biological contamination of the explored environments, which meant that the engineers had to ensure that the spacecraft would not impact Titan or any other icy moons of Saturn (especially Enceladus), even after the mission ends. Out of several options available, including a ballistic impact with Saturn, and escape from the Saturn system, the team finally opted for the spacecraft to enter a long-term stable orbit at Saturn. This was also a particular poignant moment for Dr. Lee, who had been involved in the Cassini mission since 1990 (long before many of the audience had been born).

During the question and answer segment of the videoconference, several students inquired about the past and future of space missions, such as what challenges the Cassini mission had faced, as well as what some of the future missions would look like.

We hope those who dare to dream would get their opportunity to be involved in the exciting field of space exploration.

Soh Rong'en