Onboard Cassini is a scientific probe called Huygens that was released from the main spacecraft to parachute through the atmosphere to the surface of Saturn's largest and most interesting moon, Titan, which is shrouded by an opaque atmosphere. Titan's atmosphere includes organic compounds leading scientists to believe that the moon may be like a frozen vault of conditions similar to those on Earth before life began. The Cassini orbiter is also using imaging radar to map Titan's surface.
Launched October 15, 1997, on a Titan 4 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, Cassini flew past other planets on its way to Saturn -- once each by Earth and Jupiter, twice by Venus -- to borrow gravitational energy to speed it on its way. Cassini entered Saturn orbit July 1, 2004, and the Huygens probe descended to the surface of Titan on January 14, 2005. In 2008, Cassini began a two-year extended mission.
Mass: 5,712 kilograms (12,593 pounds), consisting of 2,125-kilogram (4,685-pound) orbiter, 320-kilogram (705-pound) Huygens probe, launch vehicle adapter and 3,132 kilograms (6,905 pounds) of propellants
Science instruments: Orbiter optical camera system, imaging radar, radio science, ion and neutral mass spectrometer, visible and infrared mapping spectrometer, composite infrared spectrometer, cosmic dust analyzer, radio and plasma wave spectrometer, plasma spectrometer, ultraviolet imaging spectrograph, magnetospheric imaging instrument, dual technique magnetometer; Huygens probe descent imager and spectral radiometer, atmospheric structure instrument, gas chromatograph and mass spectrometer, aerosol collector pyrolyzer, surface science package, doppler wind experiment
Launch: October 15,1997