Univ. of Iowa professor served as engineer on destroyed Cassini spacecraft

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- The NASA Cassini spacecraft is no more after it burned up Friday in a blaze of glory as it entered Saturn's atmosphere. Cassini launched in 1997 thanks in part to the help of University of Iowa professor, Donald Kirchner.

Kirchner was the principle engineer of an instrument used on Cassini. Kirchner showed TV9 a model about 35 times smaller than the actual Cassini in his office. Kirchner says his instrument helped scientists gain valuable insight into things like solar wind and the planet's plasma. Knowing Cassini is no more, Kirchner says it is the end of a chapter in his life he spent decades working on.

"There is a little bit of sadness but it's an expected thing to happen," said Kirchner.

Cassini explored Saturn for 13 years. In all, Cassini collected more than 453,000 images and traveled 4.9 billion miles. The trip from Earth to Saturn took the spacecraft about seven years.