cassini saturn approach
This photo of Saturn was taken just before Cassini completed its approach of the planet. NASA

Friday morning, NASA’s Cassini craft will send back its final photos and data of outer space. The craft will spend its last hours hurtling towards Saturn and into the planet’s atmosphere before it burns up and completes its mission forever.

Planning for the craft began in the 1980s but it wasn’t launched into space until about a decade later. On Oct. 15, 1997, the craft launched into space and started its seven year trip out to Saturn and the space around it. The craft launched from Cape Canaveral on a dark night.

cassini launch
The Cassini craft launched in 1997. NASA

For years the craft traversed space taking photos of Earth and the moon before heading out further on its way to its final destination: Saturn. It made its way through the asteroid belt, an area not considered hazardous to craft despite the high concentration of asteroids there.

In 2000 when Cassini flew past Jupiter it took detailed close-up photos of the planet as it passed by. This one shows the planet’s Great Red Spot.

jupiter cassini
Cassini captured this photo of Jupiter. NASA

Several years later before even reaching Saturn the craft was able to observe two storms on Saturn’s surface that then merged into one storm. This was the second time this was observed by a craft and Cassini did it three months before even arriving at the planet.

saturn storm pair
The Cassini craft caught this photo of storms on Saturn. NASA

On July 1, 2004, Cassini made it to Saturn and entered the planet’s orbit. Then it was still carrying the Huygens probe as well. This is one of the last full photos Cassini captured of the planet before entering orbit.

The Huygens probe dropped onto the moon Titan in January of 2005, the probe floated down to the surface and then ran out of power shortly after making observations. The probe is about 9 feet wide and resembles a shellfish with a strong outer shell and a sensitive interior. The probe had six different instruments on it to collect data on the moon.

titan huygens
The Huygens probe captured this image of the moon Titan as part of the Cassini mission. NASA

In 2011 Cassini captured some of the most detailed photos of the moon Enceladus. Researchers believe Enceladus might host life and that under its hard exterior there might be liquid water.

enceladus cassini
The Cassini craft captured this photo of Enceladus with its stripes. NASA

The evidence of liquid water was strongest in photos that shows plumes of water vapor coming off of enceladus.

Sunlight illuminates the jets coming out of Enceladus’ south pole. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/Hampton University

Cassini has been one of the defining unmanned missions NASA runs. Now that it's concluding some researchers aren't quite sure what will come next. The Cassini mission answered some questions, but raised even more, some that future missions might be able to uncover answers to.