Hooray! NASA spacecraft Cassini is alive!

The Cassini spacecraft is sending data back to Earth after diving in between Saturn's rings and cloudtops.

The Grand Finale. will take place between April and September 2017, Cassini will undertake a daring set of orbits including a close flyby of Saturn's moon Titan. The craft was able to capture a few close images of Saturn's surface during its first dive, but the team will be able to take more calculated risks in the upcoming dives and capture unbelievable observations of the planet's surface and inner rings the likes of which we have never seen before.

Cassini is "showing us new wonders and demonstrating where our curiosity can take us if we dare", said Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division. The gap between Saturn's atmosphere and its rings is relatively narrow: 1,200 miles, or 1,900 kilometers.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft dove inside the rings for the first time at about 77,000 miles per hour relative to the planet, kicking off what the science team is calling the Grand Finale of the mission.

All went according to the plan, Maize said, adding that after its dive, the craft that's now been in space for almost 20 years "has come out the other side in excellent shape". Some of those passages will bring Cassini even closer to the planet as well as the innermost D ring.

Throughout each dive, Cassini will use its onboard scientific instruments to take readings that will give scientists unprecedented data on Saturn's atmosphere and the composition of the rings. "Based on our models we expect this gap to be free of particles that would be big enough to do damage to our spacecraft", NASA project manager Earl Maize said.

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The spacecraft zipped through this region at speeds of about 77,000 mph (124,000 km per hour) relative to the planet, so small particles hitting a sensitive area could potentially have disabled the orbiter.

The probe executed the daredevil manoeuvre on Wednesday - the first of 22 plunges planned over the next five months - while out of radio contact. But the craft has, this week, sent back a lovely new picture of the Earth, glimpsed through Saturn's rings.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft re-established contact with ground controllers shortly before 3 a.m. ET after passing through the gap between Saturn and the planet's rings.

Cassini's next dive is scheduled to occur on May 2, and thereafter on a weekly basis. Although this will end the spacecraft, Saturn's moons will be protected.

The plutonium-powered Cassini probe was launched in 1997 and went into Saturnian orbit in 2004.

"The gap between Saturn and its rings is no longer unexplored space - and we're going back 21 times", NASA tweeted from the Cassini mission's official Twitter account. The Grand Finale has been created to prevent the spacecraft from contaminating the potentially habitable Saturnian moons.

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