The giant antennas of NASA’s Deep Space Network, or DSN, talk with the Cassini spacecraft almost every day. They send commands to the spacecraft and receive information about Cassini’s status, along with data from its science instruments.
Without the capability to communicate over vast interplanetary distances provided by the DSN, it would be impossible to undertake a voyage like Cassini. With this in mind, the Cassini team thought it fitting to mark the network’s 50th anniversary by transmitting their greeting card from Saturn.
On Jan. 16, 2014 the usual stream of ones and zeros shared between Cassini and the DSN had a little something extra added in. A message from the Cassini team was converted to computer code and inserted into an unused portion of the spacecraft’s command sequence, then bounced from Earth to Cassini and back.
The message read:
“Congratulations Deep Space Network on 50 Years of Communications and Discovery!”
After a round-trip travel time across the solar system of nearly three hours, the DSN station in Canberra, Australia confirmed receipt of the message at approximately 7:30 am local time (12:30 pm US Pacific time).