NASA’s Cassini spacecraft dramatically ended its scientific explorations just three weeks after President Martha E. Pollack was installed as Cornell’s 14th president on Aug. 25, 2017. As an inauguration gift, the Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science (CCAPS), the Department of Astronomy, and the Spacecraft Planetary Image Facility (SPIF) presented Pollack with a model of Cassini on Feb. 16 in Day Hall, commemorating three decades of Cornell participation in Cassini’s historic mission.
The 3-D printed Cassini model is finished in gold leaf by Raven Arts in collaboration with SPIF. The model’s background, an image of Saturn and its moons, represents the mission and the discoveries Cassini made.
Pollack called the model “gorgeous,” adding, “It will definitely be in a place of honor in my office.”
Astronomers making the presentation – Terry Herter, chair and professor of astronomy; Phil Nicholson, professor of astronomy and acting director of CCAPS, who became a member of the Cassini science team in 1991; Alex Hayes ’03, M.Eng. ’04, assistant professor of astronomy and director of SPIF; and Zoe Ponterio, manager of SPIF – shared some of the highlights of the Cassini mission with Pollack.
The Cassini mission was a paradigm shift in space exploration, said Hayes. Because of its discoveries, astronomers now believe Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus may harbor environments suitable to life as we know it. For the first time, it’s possible to build spacecraft that can answer the question of whether life exists outside Earth, he said.
- Linda B. Glaser