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Cassini Space Probe to Be Topic of Talk

VALLEY FOCUS | Valley Glen

September 08, 1998|MICHAEL BAKER

The Saturn-bound Cassini spacecraft, the most complex and expensive unmanned space probe ever launched, will be the subject of a talk by the mission's science manager Sunday at the Valley College Planetarium.

Ellis Miner of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena will give an insider's view of the Cassini mission, using slides and videotape to illustrate the probe's progress.

The spacecraft was launched Oct. 15 amid controversy because it is carrying 72 pounds of plutonium as a power source. The craft is due to reach Saturn's orbit July 1, 2004. On its journey, it will receive a "gravitational assist" to pick up speed by using a planet's gravity like a slingshot.

The first assist occurred April 26, when Cassini passed within 176 miles of Venus. After a second Venus fly-by June 24, the craft will pass near Earth next August and Jupiter in 2000.

The pass by Earth has critics worried that an explosion or other malfunction could release the harmful effects of the radioactive plutonium and pose an unacceptable risk to human life. NASA officials and leaders of other national science institutes say the plutonium is safely encased in several layers of protective material.

During its orbit of Saturn, Cassini will release the Huygens probe, which will drop through the atmosphere of the ringed-planet's moon, Titan, and collect data from its surface.

Miner, who has been involved in unmanned planetary exploration for 32 years as a JPL scientist, will speak at 7:30 p.m.

The lecture, sponsored by Valley College's Astronomy Club, is free and open to the public.

Valley College is located at 5800 Fulton Ave. Directions to the talk and information about the astronomy club are available by calling (818) 947-2335.

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