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."
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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.