Minjin Oh / Staff reporter
On July 1, 2004, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft became the first spacecraft to take close up pictures of Saturn’s rings. Launched in 1997, Cassini’s seven year and 2.2-billion-mile trip came to a stop on September 15, 2017, when it entered Saturn’s atmosphere where it was presumably demolished. Yet, NASA plans to have their new space probe Dragonfly land on Saturn’s biggest moon, titan, in 2034.
The spacecraft’s job was to look over at the atmosphere, magnetic field, weather, moons and rings of the planet Saturn. The spacecraft also looked at one of Saturn’s many moons and the biggest of the 82 that are recognized, Titan.
Now NASA is planning to send another space craft, the Dragonfly, led by Principal investigator Elizabeth Turtle, to land on Saturn’s moon Titan. The Dragonfly, manufactured by the John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, is planned to land on Titan in the year 2034 on the Shangri-La dune fields. Dragonfly’s purpose is to access Titans microbial habitability. NASA’s rotorcraft will go to many different destinations on Titan looking for signs of life.
“[…] Titan is unlike any other place in our solar system,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, one of NASA’s associate administrators for Science at the Agency’s Headquarters in Washington. Although Titan has a nitrogen-based atmosphere similar to that of earth, the similarities end there. Saturn rains and has clouds of methane, which is one of Earths most prevalent greenhouse gases. Titan has a freezing cold surface temperature of -179 degrees Celsius (-290 degrees Fahrenheit).
Dragonfly was selected to be a part of the agency’s New Frontiers program, including the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, Juno to Jupiter, and Osiris-Rex to the asteroid Bennu. The New Frontiers program involves missions that have been identified as some of the most prioritized space explorations.
The Frontiers program has taught us a lot of what we currently know about our solar system, and soon Dragonfly will help us learn even more about the structure of life as we prepare to explore one of our solar systems most interesting places.