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How this NASA veteran got the world to tune into the space agency’s groundbreaking mission to Saturn

How this NASA veteran got the world to tune into the space agency’s groundbreaking mission to Saturn
[Photo illustration: Daisy Korpics; NASA/Joel Kowsky (Maize); NASA/JPL/University of Arizona (small planet); NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute (large planet)]


There were many moments during NASA’s two-decade-long mission to study Saturn and its moons, carried out by the Cassini spacecraft, when cosmic rays, design flaws, and other unexpected hurdles called for on-the-fly problem-solving from program manager Earl Maize. But none required more ingenuity than the live, interactive broadcast of the spacecraft’s “Grand Finale”—a five-month-long, 22-orbit sojourn between Saturn and its rings that culminated in a (purposefully) destructive dive into the planet’s atmosphere on September 15, 2017. To capture those last weeks of Cassini’s life, Maize had to manage the spacecraft’s dwindling fuel while transforming Cassini into a real-time broadcasting device—from a distance of roughly 930 million miles. “When [your device] is burning up in Saturn’s atmosphere, there’s not much opportunity to retrieve the footage,” he says. The payoff was worth it: The multifaceted campaign (which included social media updates, live web and TV broadcasts, a short film, and more) drove more than 3 million people to the mission’s landing page during the finale—and earned the team a 2018 Emmy for Outstanding Original Interactive Program.

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