By Brett Stav, Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture
PULLMAN, Wash. – David Atkinson knew his job would eventually end in a ball of flames.
On Friday, after two decades in space, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will end its remarkable journey of exploration to collect data and photograph Saturn. After orbiting the planet for 13 years, Cassini will be destroyed by intentionally plummeting itself into the planet’s atmosphere.
A member of the Cassini team and a Washington State University electrical engineering alum, Atkinson (’80 B.S., ’89 Ph.D. Elec. Engr.) knew this was how the project would end, but looks back upon it fondly.
“Seeing it end is a sentimental, difficult time. Cassini was 20 years out of my career, which is a big part of a person’s lifetime,” Atkinson said.
NASA will be discontinuing the project on Sept. 15 because Cassini is running out of fuel, which would limit the ability for the probe to be maneuvered.
Atkinson led a team that helped develop and launch a probe from the Cassini spacecraft that studied the winds on Saturn’s moon, Titan. He considers the project to be a key part of his career.
The memories and friendships that he made with his team over the years make it difficult for Atkinson to see the mission ending.
“We worked closely as a team over that period; we became somewhat of a family.”