The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced that its next mission is to send a drone called Dragonfly to explore Saturn’s largest moon Titan.
NASA scientists are saying that Titan is a suitable choice to explore on whether its environment can support primitive life. The plan is to launch Dragonfly by 2026 and to arrive on Titan eight years later in 2034.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine spoke about the uniqueness of the project, “This revolutionary mission would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago,” and added “a great nation does great things.”
“We will launch Dragonfly to explore the frontiers of human knowledge for the benefit of all humanity,” said Bridenstine.
He explained the process and the merit of using a drone for space exploration because the spacecraft can fly from location to location on the icy moon to conduct studies.
“Dragonfly will be the first drone lander with the capability to fly over a hundred miles through Titan’s thick atmosphere,” said Bridenstine. He explained that Titan is different from “any other places in our solar system and the most comparable to early Earth.”
Bridenstine stated that the state-of-the-art devices onboard the drone would help NASA “investigate organic chemistry, evaluate habitability, and search for chemical signatures of past or even present life.”
The Dragonfly mission is a portion of NASA’s competitive New Frontiers program and is the same program that funded the New Horizons spacecraft to bring us the first images of Pluto.
NASA lead program scientist for new frontiers Curt Niebur explained how the cameras of the Dragonfly drone operates to take photographs to send back to Earth.
“One of the great things about Dragonfly is with the cameras that it has looking forward and downward. As dragonflies flying over the surface, it’s going to be taking pictures and sending those back to Earth,” said Niebur.
Niebur described the experience “as if we are riding along with Dragonfly looking down at this alien yet very familiar kind of surface that has these rivers and mountains.” He thought that this would be an interesting and enjoyable experience for the public to watch the images.
Niebur talked further about the goal of the drone, which “is to get to Selk crater.” This is a gigantic crater on Titan that is about 50 miles in diameter. Selk crater is the ultimate destination because NASA scientists believe that the Selk crater has the three ingredients needed for life.
The NASA scientist offers insight into NASA’s proposed study of Saturn’s moon, which has a lot similarity to Earth. “It’s very similar chemically to the to Earth before life evolved,” but “We can’t go back in time on Earth and learn the lessons about the chemistry that eventually led to life,” said Niebur.
Niebur reasoned that we could go to Saturn’s largest moon Titan to find some answers. “We can pursue those questions and look at that chemistry and get a glimpse into what those conditions were like that eventually led to life on Earth,” said NASA’s scientist.