Historical Explorations of Saturn

Pioneer 11

The Pioneer 11 was launched on April 5, 1973 and arrived at Saturn on Spet 1, 1979. It was originally designed simply to see if it could pass the asteriod belt. It was mankind's first close-up look at Saturn. It flew to within 13,000 miles of Saturn. Two previously undiscovered moons were found. It found an additional ring and also charted Saturn's magnetosphere. After leaving Saturn, Pioneer 11 continued and left the solar system. Its power source died in November of 1995, and the last communication with the spacecraft occurred then.

Voyager 1 and 2

Voyager 1 - Voyager 1 was launched on September 5, 1977 and reached Saturn on November 13, 1980.
Voyager 2 - Voyager 2 was launched on August 20, 1977, interestingly enough, before Voyager 1, and reached Saturn on August 26, 1981.

Together, these two spacecraft revealed a huge amount of information scientists could not possible discover using visual aids from Earth. Voyagers 1 and 2 led to the discovery of over 1000 ringlets and 7 new moons, including the shepherd moons which help to keep the rings stable and in place. They discovered Mimas and it's Death Star appearance, as well as Titan's smoggy atmosphere. The surprises returned by the Voyager spacecraft had to do with the braids, kinks, and spokes discovered in the rings that were unexpected and difficult to explain at the time. Voyager 1 came 40000 miles from the to of the clouds, while Voyager 2 got closer at 26000 miles.

Voyager 1 was on course to meet Pluto, but it's mission route was sacrificed when scientists decided they wanted to take a closer look at Titan instead of proceeding to Pluto. Voyager 2 continued on to Uranus. Both are currently headerd out of the solar system. If there are no unforseen errors, communication with both spacecraft is expected to continue well into the 2030s. After that, the power may be too low to maintain the spacecraft.