Once in a Lifetime: Professor Participates in NASA’s Cassini-Huygens Mission

Professor Essam Marouf, an original member of NASA's Radio Science Team for the Cassini-Huygens Mission, meets with the media on Sept. 13 in the Engineering building on the grounds of SJSU. (James Tensuan/San Jose State University)

Professor Essam Marouf in his lab (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Photojournalism).

One of the most remarkable space explorations ever conducted is coming to an end on Sept. 15, and a San Jose State professor has played an important role.

“It has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, providing more knowledge than what was known before by orders of magnitude,” Professor of Electrical Engineering Essam Marouf said. “It changed the way we think about giant planets.”

Design work for the Cassini-Huygens Mission began 26 years ago with the goal of providing mankind its first close-up view of Saturn and its rings, atmosphere and moons.

The 22-foot-long spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral in 1997, and spent the next seven years traveling to Saturn.

Marouf is one of the original members of the Cassini Radio Science Team, which used radio waves to learn about the Saturn system. The Huygens probe even landed on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons.

Professor Essam Marouf, an original member of NASA's Radio Science Team for the Cassini-Huygens Mission, meets with the media on Sept. 13 in the Engineering building on the grounds of SJSU. (James Tensuan/San Jose State University)

Professor Marouf is interviewed by Mercury News reporter Lisa Krieger (James Tensuan, ’15 Photojournalism).

From his lab right here at SJSU, Marouf and his students have been analyzing data collected by Cassini, making important discoveries, along with scientists from 26 nations.

Among the most significant is the discovery of a methane sea on Titan, described by NASA as strikingly similar to Earth in a deep freeze of minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit.

Many news reporters came to campus Sept. 13 to interview Marouf before he departed for Pasadena, where he will witness the disintegration of Cassini.

The spacecraft is almost out of fuel, so operators are deliberately plunging Cassini into Saturn to ensure its moons will remain pristine for future exploration.

“I have mixed emotions,” said Marouf, who has celebrated Cassini milestones with his family including his wife, daughter and two granddaughters.

“Part of me is sad because the last 26 years have been an integral part of my daily life, planning experiments and analyzing data.”