Henrietta Leavitt, along with her team of female scientists profiled in Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson, made amazing discoveries about the universe and our place in it. If you’ve never heard of Henrietta, you are not alone. You’ve probably never heard of Carolyn Porco either but her career and accomplishments in the world of astronomy are no less groundbreaking than those of Ms. Leavitt and her colleagues. Last year, the Cassini spacecraft burned up in the atmosphere of Saturn after 20 years in space. Dr. Porco was the team leader of Cassini Imaging. This edition of Drama Unfolds provides an introduction to Carolyn Porco and her career of looking at the “promised land beyond the sun.”
September 15, 2017 — The end is now upon us. Within hours of the posting of this entry, Cassini will burn up in the atmosphere of Saturn … a kiloton explosion spread out against the sky in a meteoric display of light and fire, a dazzling flash to signal the dying essence of a lone emissary from another world. As if the myths of old had foretold the future, the great patriarch will consume his child. At that point, that golden machine, so dutiful and strong, will enter the realm of history, and the toils and triumphs of this long march will be done.
For those of us appointed long ago to embark on this journey, it has been a taxing 3 decades, requiring a level of dedication that I could not have predicted, and breathless times when we sprinted for the duration of a marathon. But in return, we were blessed to spend our lives working and playing in that promised land beyond the Sun.
My imaging team members and I were especially blessed to serve as the documentarians of this historic epoch and return a stirring visual record of our travels around Saturn and the glories we found there. This is our gift to the citizens of planet Earth. So, it is with both wistful, sentimental reflection and a boundless sense of pride, in a commitment met and a job well done, that I now turn to face this looming, abrupt finality. It is doubtful we will soon see a mission as richly suited as Cassini return to this ringed world and shoulder a task as colossal as we have borne over the last 27 years.
To have served on this mission has been to live the rewarding life of an explorer of our time, a surveyor of distant worlds. We wrote our names across the sky. We could not have asked for more. I sign off now, grateful for knowing that Cassini’s legacy, and ours, will include our mutual roles as authors of a tale that humanity will tell for a very long time to come. — reprinted from CICLOPS.org, the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations.