The great success of the Cassini mission deserves our appreciation, but Nasa’s work on Earth’s climate matters more

The Cassini mission, which will end on Friday, is one of the most wonderful achievements of the human race. A slack-jawed awe is the only proper reaction to the spacecraft’s travels and to its intricate route over seven years to Saturn, aided by the slingshot effects of its grazing the orbits of the inner planets, first Venus and then Earth, as it passed them in vast loops, representing astonishing feats of calculation.

Nor was it enough just to reach the outer planets and their region of immense distances from the Sun, from us and from each other. The flypasts of Jupiter and its moons, reached after three years, and then the orbit of Saturn attained four years later, are wonders of remote control and communication. The pictures that Cassini has sent back of the surface of the moons it has explored – and it actually landed the smaller probe, Huygens, on one of them – enlarge our vision of the universe as nothing else could.

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