NASA to send drone to Saturn's moon for clues on human origins

Katie Ramirez
July 1, 2019

"This cutting-edge mission would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago, but we're now ready for Dragonfly's incredible flight".

In an announcement on June 27, NASA revealed that it will launch the Dragonfly rotorcraft-lander in 2026, but the vehicle won't arrive on Saturn's moon until 2034.

NASA will select "dozens" of locations on Titan that seem like promising points of interest.

Titan plays host to numerous chemical processes that could have sparked biology on the early Earth. NASA's associate administrator for science, Thomas Zurbuchen said, "The science is compelling and the mission is bold".

"This revolutionary mission would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago".

The spacecraft will carry with it multiple scientific instruments that will enable it to measure soil samples and to search for signs of past or existing life on Titan.

Also, according to NASA, "Dragonfly" will investigate the atmospheric properties of Titan and will try to find any chemical evidence about the existence of living organisms.

"Additionally, instruments will search for chemical evidence of past or extant life", the statement adds.

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The hope is the lander will eventually fly more than 108 miles (175 kilometres).

"Visiting this mysterious ocean world could revolutionise what we know about life in the Universe". Unlike Earth, Titan has clouds and rain of methane. NASA's drone is called Dragonfly, and it will fly across Saturn's moon to examine sites and samples that could carry information about alien life. Other organics are formed in the atmosphere and fall like light snow.

"Today I am proud to announce that our next New Frontiers mission, Dragonfly, will explore Saturn's largest moon, Titan", Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator said during a teleconference.

In under an hour, Dragonfly will cover tens of miles or kilometers, farther than any planetary rover has traveled. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.

Approximately 886 million miles (1.4 billion km) from the Sun, Titan has an average temperature of -290 degrees Fahrenheit (-179 degrees Celsius) and a surface pressure 50 percent greater than that on Earth.

"Titan is such an incredible, complex destination", said Elizabeth Turtle, who will lead the mission for the lab as its principal investigator.

Dragonfly is the latest in a series of missions under the New Frontiers programme, following on from the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, the Juno mission to Jupiter and the OSIRIS-REx mission to the asteroid Bennu.

"We're absolutely thrilled and ready to jump on it and get going to go to Titan", Turtle said on a NASA webcast.

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