The spirituality of the Cassini satellite: what it teaches us about life, death and beyond

This is one of the last images that the Cassini satellite took of Saturn.

Now, Cassini is gone.

NASA tweeted the following:

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft successfully pulled off its grand finale after 20 years in space. On Friday, it plunged into the planet’s atmosphere and destroyed itself.

The three things I cannot help but think are:

  • There is something remarkably sad and perhaps poetic about Cassini’s fate. The idea that this machine has been hovering in space, capturing photos for us on Earth, and is now ready to end its career through a suicide mission seems almost wrong. It feels immoral. It feels like Cassini should have been brought back to earth and perhaps put on display so that it can live a life eternal on its home planet.
  • I must remember, however, that Cassini is a machine. It has no feelings. It has no family or friends. It’s an unconscious series of parts which purely serves the needs of its maker, the “mind” behind and within the bucket of bolts floating around our solar system. But we cannot help but place a soul inside the wires and chips that make up Cassini. We cannot help but have reverence for what it has done for us. We cannot help but make an inanimate object something Divine. What does this say about us?
  • Finally, in the end of Cassini’s “life”, it plunged into Saturn not just in an act of destruction, but in an act of loyalty. Cassini’s programming was to revere Saturn. And in the end, Cassini became a part of that which it revered. It threw itself into the arms of the one it loved. And although Cassini is no more, it is now Saturn. It is not an object set apart from what it loved, but it is its love. I feel that way about human mortality — that a life well lived is one in which we revere the Divine and that when it comes time for us to fall to pieces, for our mission observing this world to come to an end, we plunge into the Great Love and become part of it.