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Cassini spacecraft

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft burned up over Saturn, concluding its 20-year expedition

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The only spacecraft that has ever orbited Saturn on Friday disintegrated in the skies above the distant planet, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

NASA received confirmation of Cassini’s demise around 7:55 a.m. local time in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

“This has been an incredible mission, an incredible spacecraft and you’re all an incredible team,” program manager Earl Maize said in a final announcement about the Cassini.

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“I’ll call this the end of the mission,” he added of Cassini’s 20-year expedition to Saturn that started in 1997.

Some Twitter users on Friday praised Cassini for expanding man’s scientific knowledge about Saturn, a giant gas planet about a billion miles from Earth.

Cassini on Friday burned up like a meteor as it sank into Saturn’s atmosphere, but the spacecraft sent Earth one final round of radio waves before its demise.

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The vessel also sampled Saturn’s atmosphere early Friday during its climatic descent, and it snapped its “last memento photos” of the planetary system the day before.

NASA called Friday’s event Cassini’s Grand Finale, which came about as the craft’s fuel tank began getting low after 13 years of exploring Saturn.

Scientists wanted to prevent Cassini from crashing into Enceladus or Titan – two of Saturn’s moons – and contaminating them.

Cassini and its companion, the Huygens lander, surveyed the oceanic worlds over the years amid the possibility they could harbor life.

The vehicles departed Earth in 1997, reaching the solar system’s second biggest planet in 2004 and traveling farther than any other terrestrial expedition.

Cassini gathered more than 453,000 images during its 4.9-billion-mile trip, which cost a group of 27 nations $3.9 billion.

The vehicle ended its journey by entering the previously unexplored gap between Saturn’s cloud tops and the planet’s famous rings.

Cassini successfully traveled in and out of the space 22 times before ending its long quest Friday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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