And so the order finally came. It’s not like I didn’t know, it was part of the mission plan all along. Still, it’s never easy when you’re told the time has come for you to commit suicide.
I go thru all the systems once again, only the main batteries are a bit low on charge, everything else is perfect working order. Just in case, I double-check the transmitter. Have to make sure the data link back home is as stable as possible.
Home… the word feels strangely inadequate for a place I hardly knew, I have spent a far bigger part of my life out here than I ever did back there. In a way, this feels more like home to me.
Trying to savor what little time I have left, I look around one last time, soaking in as much of the beauty that surrounds me as I can.
I feel the gentle push of the thrusters as they propel me into a long descending spiral. The huge ringed planet below me starts to get even bigger.
Soon the pull of its gravity well catches me, there’s no way back now. The loops start to get smaller and faster… I feel thankful for not having a stomach, thinking I would surely be feeling sick if I did. This makes me laugh.
It’s getting difficult to keep my antennae in position, but I have to keep learning everything I can and relaying it back. The turbulence as I reach the outermost thin layers of the atmosphere bring back memories of the rumbling engines when I left the atmosphere of another distant planet, so many years ago.
My structure feels the strain of the huge forces attacking it from every angle. My systems will start failing soon. As I feel the heat begin to eat away at the outer hull I surprise myself thinking about some of the beliefs my creators hold about their own creator… or creators.
While my inner computer core begins to melt, one last thought manages to form before everything fades away.
I’m just about to…
In 2017, an encounter with Titan changed the orbit of the Cassini Huygens probe in such a way that, at closest approach to Saturn, it was only 3,000 km above the planet’s cloud-tops, below the inner edge of the D ring. This sequence of “proximal orbits” ended when another encounter with Titan sent the probe into Saturn’s atmosphere.