Goodbye Cassini: Saturn spacecraft gets funny opera send-off

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AP) – NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is getting a grand but hilarious opera send-off before it plunges through Saturn’s atmosphere and vaporizes Friday.

An actor from TV’s old “Star Trek: Voyager” series, Robert Picardo, said he dashed off the lyrics in about a minute, several weeks ago. He collaborated with the creative director of The Planetary Society, and, presto, “Le Cassini Opera” was born.

Picardo set the words to the instantly recognizable aria “La Donna e mobile” from Verdi’s “Rigoletto.”

While Cassini’s 20-year mission has been “a serious success,” Picardo said the opera is definitely a comedy. Here’s how it opens: “Goodbye, Cassini. Your mission’s fini. Bravo, Cassini! Have some linguini.” And on it goes, paying humorous tribute.

“No tragedy here. All good things – NASA missions, ‘Star Trek’ series, turkey and Swiss sandwiches with avocado –come to an end,” Picardo told The Associated Press.

Cassini’s program manager, Earl Maize, loves the performance.

“It’s very heartwarming to us,” Maize told reporters Wednesday at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“Part of what we try to do is to extend everybody out to Saturn. It’s not science for the ivory tower. It’s for humanity, and so everybody to get on the ride, come with us, is just phenomenal.”

That was Picardo’s goal, too. A longtime fan of both space and opera, he merged those interests in “Star Trek: Voyager” as the holographic doctor who bursts into song. It seemed fitting that he celebrate Cassini in song, too. He actually got to see Cassini’s hitchhiking moon lander, the European Huygens, before it left Earth in 1997.

Picardo said Wednesday from Beverly Hills, California, that he sang “Le Cassini Opera” through twice. Five minutes, and that was a wrap.

“It was definitely a seat-of-the-pants production,” he said.

Picardo, who’s on the board of the Planetary Society, an advocacy group for space exploration, said he’s delighted that the opera has been so well received

The Cassini-Huygens duo arrived at Saturn in 2004. Cassini remained in orbit around the ringed planet, as Huygens parachuted onto Titan, its biggest moon, in early 2005.

Cassin faces a deliberately fiery end on Friday. Its fuel tank essentially empty and its mission complete, Cassini will burn up like a meteor in Saturn’s sky.

SpaceX bloopers video: ‘How NOT to land an orbital rocket’

CAPE CANAVERAL (AP) – SpaceX has put together a bloopers video showing “How NOT to land an orbital rocket booster.”

Set to John Philip Sousa’s rousing march “The Liberty Bell,” the two-minute video posted Thursday shows rockets exploding at sea and over land. The opening blast, from 2013, is even synchronized to the music.

SpaceX chief Elon Musk can afford to poke fun at his early, pioneering efforts at rocket recycling, now that his private company has pulled off 16 successful booster landings. The most recent occurred last week in Florida.

“We messed up a lot before it finally worked, but there’s some epic explosion footage,” Musk said recently on Twitter.

In one video shot, Musk looks over a rocket’s charred remains with the caption: “It’s just a scratch.” After another huge fiery explosion, this one on the company’s barge, the caption reads: “Well, technically, it did land ... just not in one piece.”

Musk tweeted Thursday that when the Falcon rocket’s upper stage and the cargo enclosure can also be retrieved and reused, launch costs will drop by a factor of more than 100.

For now, SpaceX’s first-stage boosters – 15 stories tall – separate shortly after liftoff and fly back to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station or an ocean platform for a vertical touchdown. Until the company’s recovery efforts – unique among rocket makers launching spacecraft into orbit –these segments were discarded at sea. A couple of these recycled rockets already have launched a second time.

The video ends with scenes of the first successful booster touchdown at Cape Canaveral in 2015 and the first one on an ocean platform in 2016.

“The Liberty Bell” march was the theme music for the old “Monty Python” comedy TV series.

SpaceX video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bvim4rsNHkQ&feature=youtu.be