Where spacecraft go to die
14 September 2017
On 15 September, NASA's Cassini spacecraft will conclude a nearly 20-year-long mission by diving into Saturn’s atmosphere. The heat and speed of entry will rip apart and vaporize the 2-ton probe, but it will gather data for as long as it can—a fitting finish for a mission that transformed our knowledge of the saturnian system.
Cassini’s demise was intentional. If it were left to orbit around Saturn, it may have one day crashed into the moons Titan or Enceladus, potentially contaminating their liquid oceans with earthly microbes. But other missions have had far less happy farewells.
Here, Science takes a look at the 42 spacecraft that, intentionally or not, have met their end on another planet.
Into the great beyond
Dozens of spacecraft have been sent out across the solar system. Many still orbit their target worlds. But 42 are known to have final resting places on other planets. Where did these robotic explorers go? Who sent them? And how did they die?
Because they are close to Earth, Venus and Mars harbor large numbers of dead landers.
Final resting places
Scientists know the locations of just about all of the dead spacecraft. Next, we take a look at each of them.
Producers: Garvin Grullón, Jia You Supervising producers: Alberto Cuadra, Beth Rakouskas Design, graphics, and data visualization: Alberto Cuadra, Garvin Grullón, Jia You, Val Altounian Web development: Jia You Research: Giorgia Guglielmi Text: Daniel Clery Editor: Eric Hand