An Ode to Cassini
In Four Sijo Poems
A lot has been said about the Cassini mission to Saturn and its dramatic end on September 15th, 2017. As I followed the “Grand Finale” on-line and watched Cassini fall silent after that final plunge into Saturn, I knew I wanted to devote a blog post to that bittersweet event. The problem was that I really didn’t have much new to add to that volume of commentary that’s already out there.
Still, I couldn’t let this landmark event pass without some form of recognition. As I wracked my brain trying to come up with some unique way to celebrate the success of the Cassini mission, I stumbled upon the “Cassini Inspires” project sponsored by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL). This unique project asks people to share, through any creative medium that can be distributed via social media, how the Cassini mission has inspired them.
That was my answer. If I couldn’t provide new information on Cassini, I could provide a new way to tell the remarkable story of that mission. And since I enjoy writing, that would be my medium. Poetry, to be more specific.
To make things a bit more interesting, and to tie into the Asian Culture themes highlighted in SASEPrints, I wrote the poems employing the ancient Korean form known as Sijo. I figured, who is going to try that? And if my poems don’t turn out to be great, at least it’ll be original!
What is sijo? The sijo (Korean 시조, pronounced SHEE-jo) is a form of poetry divided into three lines, each with 14–16 syllables and 44–46 syllables total. Each line can be split into two parts of 7–8 syllables each. Because of that division, sijo is sometimes written as six lines (primarily here in the west) as opposed to the more traditional three lines. Look here for a more detailed description of this ancient and elegant form of poetry.
And so, I present for the first (and quite possibly only) time ever, the birth, life, and death of Cassini as told through four poems written in the style of Sijo (with commentary in regular old prose).
So, you want to go to Saturn and explore its rings and moons
Get scientists and engineers, from seventeen countries in all
Imagine, design, build, test and in seven years: Cassini
Cassini was a true international effort. 17 different countries and hundreds of engineers and scientists participated in the mission development and execution. There were 12 different instruments on the spacecraft to visualize Saturn and its moons in various wavelengths, sample dust and charged particles, and measure magnetic fields. The Huygens Probe hosted another six instruments designed to take data on a one-way trip to the surface of Saturn’s moon, Titan. Building a spacecraft as complicated as Cassini didn’t happen overnight. It took seven years from the project “new start” in 1990 to launch in 1997.
The Journey Begins
The pre-dawn gloom shocked by fire, Cassini leaps into the sky
Start of the long, lonely voyage. Seven years to Saturn’s rings
First build speed from Venus’ pull, then back to kiss the Earth goodbye
Travelling to the outer planets can be “expensive” in terms of fuel. Cassini, like many other explorers of the hinterlands of the solar system, used gravity assists to build up momentum to “slingshot” out to Saturn. The maneuver had it pass by Venus twice and then around the Earth once. That return to Earth occurred almost two years after Cassini’s launch. From that point it took another five years to reach Saturn to start it’s science mission. And you think your work commute is long.
The things you saw near Saturn’s shores, stretched our minds to their breaking points
Titan’s valleys, pearls of Saturn, the geysers of Enceladus
You answered many questions, but made us ask even more.
The data collected by Cassini has revolutionized our understanding of the planet Saturn and it’s environs. In many cases, the questions that Cassini answered caused scientists to pose new, even tougher questions. As Issac Asimov noted, “the most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ (I found it!) but ‘That’s funny’ …” Cassini had a lot of “that’s funny” discoveries that could ultimately inspire future missions to the ringed planet that will carry on Cassini’s legacy.
The End of It
Cassini’s four year mission ends with so much more to see and do.
Add nine more years to explore, the planet’s rings and moons still speak
Now drained of fuel the end draws near, a final plunge to Saturn’s heart
Cassini’s core mission was intended to be four years, but was extended twice so that the science mission actually lasted for 13. Ironically, Cassini’s discoveries paved the way for it’s fiery demise in Saturn’s atmosphere. Because Cassini showed that the moons Titan and Enceladus had environments that could potentially foster life, measures had to be taken to ensure that the spacecraft would not crash into either of them once it’s fuel was fully depleted. International Planetary Protection rules require that spacecraft coming into contact with extraterrestrial bodies that could harbor life must be stringently cleaned to reduce the risk of contaminating them with Earth microbes. Cassini had not undergone that level of cleaning, and so the only way to protect Titan and Enceladus was for Cassini to burn up in Saturn’s atmosphere. Now that’s what I call giving you life for science!
Art Imitates Life
There are some who would claim that art and science are worlds apart. Logic and creativity inhabit different hemispheres of the brain and never the twain shall meet. But anyone who has seen the otherworldly beauty captured and interpreted by the scientists and engineers of Cassini, knows that isn’t true. But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself. A good place to start is the NASA e-book, “The Saturn System Through the Eyes of Cassini.” Paging through that relatively small sample of Cassini imagery, it’s hard not to be inspired.
And if that inspiration leads you to create your own art, post that Cassini-inspired creation on social media tagged with #CassiniInspires. If your work is selected to be featured by NASA on their websites and social media, you could be a part of Cassini’s legacy!
Just promise me not to write a Sijo poem. I called that one first.
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