Cassini-Huygens – it’s personal

Erica RolfeErica Rolfe
  15 September 2017

Titan IVB/Centaur rocket launches Cassini-Huygens from Cape Canaveral, Florida on 15 October 1997. Credit: NASA

Cassini-Huygens holds a special place in our hearts, and in our story of how EJR-Quartz began. This was the very first launch that Cees and I ‘blogged’ together.

We didn’t know we were blogging, of course. The date was 15 October 1997. No blogs, CMS, Twitter, Facebook, before or, before most of us had mobile phones. Oh, and no approvers.

Talk about vintage: the ESA Science Huygen’s page circa 1997/8. It’s definitely gotten a makeover since.

Cees was coding in HTML and ftp-ing direct to the server, while I was thinking up things to say. Our main source of information was ESA’s Alberto Gianolio of the Huygens team, sitting in a TV truck somewhere at Cape Canaveral, passing us messages by landline.

Little did we know that was the moment of conception for EJR-Quartz. At that time Cees and I were collaborating on the very early webpages for the ESA Science missions. It was just the start!

Fast forward to 2004.

By the time Cassini-Huygens reached Saturn and Titan, I had moved to Italy and was chief editor for the new ESA Portal (, and Carl Walker (then EJR-Quartz, now ESA) had taken over as Science editor, leading an editorial team in ESTEC.

Christmas Day 2004, in pyjamas, turkey in the oven and surrounded by a sea of wrapping paper, I joined ESA colleagues around Europe in the communications loop to publish the news that ESA Huygens had been released on its 3-week journey down to the surface of Titan.

The evolution of the ESA portal website, featuring front page news of Huygen’s landing on Titan.

On 14 January 2005, the very first images back from the surface of another moon took ESA into the record books. It brought record-breaking traffic on not equalled again until ESA Rosetta landed Philae on the surface of a comet.

The ESA teams were gathered this time at ESA Operations in ESOC. Our EJR-Quartz editors in the hot seat that day were Carl Walker (then EJR-Quartz, now ESA) with Daniel Scuka, while I was in ESRIN, Italy and Scott Hatton was in ESTEC, and we waited to hear if Huygens had survived the landing and was able to send back those alien images from the surface.

ESA communication team at ESA mission control (ESOC) for the Huygens landing media event. EJR-Quartz’ Carl Walker (now ESA) and Daniel Scuka in the mix! Credit: ESA

Another milestone that January 2005 that escaped the world’s press was the formation of our Italian company EJR-Quartz srl.


And now

Almost exactly 20 years on, I’ve been with Cees nearly as long as with my actual husband! Our partnership has given rise to a team of 36 in 4 countries – including 3 editors still working on Cassini-Huygens stories to the very end.

This week our science editor Emily Baldwin is still busy covering the Grand Finale, recalling that epic landing on Titan and results from Cassini. She’ll also be posting updates on the mission’s end from @esascience. Daniel Scuka will be live-tweeting Cassini’s final hours as ESA Operations listens for the final signal. I’ll be tweeting updates on @esa. The tools may have changed but it’s the content that matters.

Says Daniel: “The sound of Titan’s winds as Huygens landed as an mp3 was totally RAD!”

Says Emily: “What other mission would have let me write ravioli, death star and giant sponge in the same sentence.”

20 years on, we’re all still in awe of these jaw-dropping images of Saturn coming in from Cassini until the last. We’re proud to have played a small part in the life of this astonishing NASA/ESA/ASI mission, and of the part it played in our continuing story.

The Day the Earth Smiled: Cassini captures stunning image of Earth from Saturn. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute