Cassini Retirement
An artist’s rendition of Cassini burning up in Saturn’s atmosphere

Based on a friend’s recommendation, we recently began watching Netflix’s 7 Days Out, a fascinating and very entertaining docuseries that chronicles the seven days leading up to several monumental events, including the Westminster Dog Show, the reopening of Manhattan’s Eleven Madison Park restaurant, and the Kentucky Derby.

My favorite episode so far has been the third one, which follows various NASA personnel as they prepare for the end of the Cassini mission, which culminated with the Cassini probe burning up in Saturn’s atmosphere on September 15, 2017 after two decades of exploration.

For starters, the episode is a simple, unassuming reminder of the beauty of science and exploration, specifically space exploration. While the episode doesn’t delve too much into the specific science of Cassinis mission or the data that it collected about Saturn and its moons, it’s hard not to experience a sense of wonder about our solar system as well as a sense of thankfulness for those dedicating their lives to unlocking its secrets.

Of course, it helps when the people being interviewed about the mission are passionate about what they’re doing. Time and again, the episode’s interviewees talk about being part of something bigger than themselves, and their role in NASA’s ongoing mission, with a sense of wonder and even gratitude. They talk about their responsibilities as scientists, both to Earth and their discoveries. (For example, the reason Cassini was sent to burn up in Saturn’s atmosphere was to prevent it from contaminating any of the ringed planet’s possibly life-supporting moons.)

The episode also focuses on several women involved in the mission, including lead scientist Linda Spilker and operations manager Julie Webster, who talk about what it’s like to be women scientists, and how exciting it is to see more women entering science and engineering.

Finally, the thing that hit me hardest about the episode was how much it revealed the beauty of taking pride in one’s work and enjoying a job done well to the very end. In the episode’s most powerful moment, many of those involved in Cassinis construction and mission gather before dawn to witness its final moments. As Cassini enters Saturn’s atmosphere, there’s a bittersweet mix of emotions: pride in all that the probe had accomplished and discovered, sorrow at its passing, and even a bit of a thrill when Cassini proves tougher than expected and lasts a few more seconds before burning up.

You can watch NASA’s own footage of Cassinis finale below. The probe’s last moments begin around the 53:00 mark, and the following minutes, as the crew counts down the probe’s final movements and signals, actually become quite suspenseful. You know how it’s going to end, but you’re on the edge of your seat, nonetheless.

If you’ve ever smiled at footage of NASA engineers celebrating, say, landing a spacecraft on Mars — or if you just need/​want to see some proof that humans can actually accomplish great things (which, given how crappy things seem these days, I don’t blame you) — then I can’t recommend this episode enough. It’s as inspiring as it is entertaining.