Cassini Program Manager Awarded NASA's Highest Honor

June 4, 1998

Now more than 20 million kilometers (about 12.5 million miles) beyond Venus, Cassini is zooming along at more than 129,300 kilometers per hour (about 80,000 miles per hour), having received a big boost in speed from the effects of Venus' gravity when the spacecraft flew past that planet in late April.

The international Cassini and Huygens team this week bids a fond farewell to Cassini Program Manager Richard J. ("Spe") Spehalski, who retires from Cassini's helm on June 5. Since 1992, Spehalski has managed the successful development, launch and operation of Cassini. Robert T. Mitchell, currently Project Manager of the Galileo Europa Mission, assumes the post of Cassini Program Manager on June 8.

Earlier this week, NASA bestowed its highest honor on Spehalski, awarding him the agency's Distinguished Service Medal for his leadership of NASA's two historic flagship planetary missions - Cassini, and the Galileo Mission to Jupiter, which he managed through final development and launch and early operations from 1988 to 1990.

"The Galileo and Cassini missions are the last great flagship planetary flights of discovery of the 20th century, and their success has been critical to support for a vigorous program of solar system exploration," said JPL Director Dr. Edward C. Stone, commenting on Spehalski's retirement. "JPL, NASA, and the nation owe Spe and the teams he led a debt of gratitude for their accomplishments."

Cassini remains in excellent health. So far, the spacecraft has traversed more than 675 million kilometers of space since launch on Oct. 15, 1997. The mission's operations schedule over the past month was dominated by a variety of engineering tests and routine maintenance activities on Cassini and the European Space Agency's (ESA) Huygens Titan probe. Tests and engineering analysis for the Huygens probe are performed at ESA's Huygens Probe Operations Center (HPOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, via a telecommunications link to JPL. Last week, engineers conducted an in-flight calibration test that pointed the high-gain antenna 12 degrees from the Sun. Data from that test confirmed the excellent health of the Huygens probe radio receiver.

Cassini's international science team gathered for the 17th Cassini Project Science Group in Pasadena this week. The primary topics covered at the meeting were planned and proposed operation of the science instruments during the flight to Saturn, and plans for the approach to Saturn and the four-year mission in orbit at Saturn.

Additional information about Cassini-Huygens is online at

Cassini will begin orbiting Saturn on July 1, 2004, and release its piggybacked Huygens probe about six months later for descent through the thick atmosphere of the moon Titan. Cassini-Huygens is a cooperative mission of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.

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