There have been many missions to Saturn. The latest was Cassini, launched October 15, 1997. The first was Pioneer 11, launched in 1972. Further details about the Saturn missions can be found on NASA’s Saturn web pages. Saturn is the second largest planet (compared to Jupiter), with a radius of about 9.5 times that of earth at eh equator and is at a minimum distance of 1.2 billion km (746 million miles). More details about Saturn can be found on NASA’s Saturn Fact Sheet.
With the videos below, you will go back to September 1, 1979 as Pioneer 11 reached Saturn. In these earlier days of the space program, television abandoned its regularly scheduled programs to cover major space events for hours at a time – live. Viewers and engineers and scientists alike were experiencing these discoveries for the first time ever!
Cassini – 1997 Cassini is a current a mission to Saturn via Jupiter (detailed description). One of Cassini’s tasks was to deliver the Huygens probe from the ESA (European Space Agency) to Saturn’s moon Titan. Then Cassini will remain in orbit around Saturn for years to come gathering data about the Saturian system including Saturn’s moons. More information can also be found on the JPL Cassini web pages. The CICLOPS page includes some of the imagery from Cassini.
Huygens – 1997 Huygens was a mission with Cassini specifically to explore one of Saturn’s moons – Titan (detailed description). Huygens was built by the European Space Agency and rode along with the Cassini orbiter. During July 2004 Cassini-Huygens entered the Saturnian System. Near the end of the third orbit around Saturn, Cassini jettisoned Huygens to begin a 20 day journey to Saturn’s moon Titan. On January 14, 2005 the Huygen’s proben entered Titan’s upper atmosphere and descended for about 2 hours 27 minutes via parachute to the surface. It then spent 1 hour and 10 minutes on the surface collecting additional data.
Voyager 2 – 1977 Voyager 2 launched 8/20/1977 and was the first of a pair of spacecraft launche to explore Jupiter and Saturn (detailed description) but was plagued with problems – later overcome. Its launch date was unique in that Voyager 2’s path would also take it past Uranus and Neptune. Like Voyager 1, it contained a golden record of sounds from earth. Voyager continues to speed out of our solar system. Images from Voyager 1 and 2 can be found here.
Voyager 1 – 1977 Voyager 1 was launched on 9/5/1977 – delayed to make certain that delays caused by problems on Voyager 2 were not repeated (detailed description) – the launch was “flawless and accurate”. In February 1990 a mosaic of 60 frames were taken to form a “family portrait” of our solar system. This portait can be seen here, and diagrams here and here.
Pioneer 11 – 1973 Pioneer 11 was launched 4/6/1973 and was was the second mission to investigate Jupiter and the outer solar system (detailed description) . Like Pioneer 10, used Jupiter’s gravitational field to alter its trajectory radically. Like Pioneer 10, it contains a plaque showing mankind and the location of the sun and earth in our galaxy. On December 3, 1974 , Pioneer 11 passed to within 43,000 km of Jupiter’s cloud tops. Fifteen experiments were carried (listed here – each entry has a link with details). On September 30, 1995 NASA stopped trying to communicate with Pioneer 11- details here.