Saturn Probe Breaks Down

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.: The Saturn-bound Cassini probe was already slow, expensive, and loaded with plutonium. Now it's broken. Yesterday's blowout in the cooling system means a week's worth of repairs, making the planned Oct. 6 launch unlikely. And mission engineers still don't know what or who caused the damage. Could it be sabotage? The prospect is "titillating but unlikely," according to TIME science correspondent Jeffrey Kluger. "We're not talking about the KGB. It's doubtful this crowd has the capabilities to sabotage a tightly guarded launch pad."

The Cassini probe is, at $3.4 billion, what Kluger calls "the last of the NASA Cadillacs." And at seven years, its trip to Saturn is pretty long by space standards. If Cassini is still grounded in November, the trip may no longer be worth it. But at Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Pasadena, spokesperson Nancy Lovato said that officials there were "very optimistic" that Cassini would make its launch window. Right now, that window seems to be slamming shut.