NASA announced that Dragonfly, a drone lander, will explore Titan as the agency’s next mission under its New Frontiers program.
The decision to explore Titan isn’t the biggest shock considering it is the only moon in our solar system with an extensive atmosphere and liquid on its surface. Most importantly, scientists for a long time have thought that Titan is similar to Earth before life was formed here as Titan contains similar organic materials. Consequently, Titan remains to contain most Earth-like environment in our solar system.
“Dragonfly is a bold, game-changing way to explore the solar system,” said Ralph Semmel, Director at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. “This mission is a visionary combination of creativity and technical risk-taking that will help us unravel some of the most critical mysteries of the universe — including, possibly, the keys to our origins. We’re honored that NASA has entrusted APL and our partners with this great opportunity and responsibility.”
“Titan is such an amazing, complex destination,” said Elizabeth “Zibi” Turtle, Dragonfly principal investigator from APL. “We don’t know the steps that were taken on Earth to get from chemistry to biology, but we do know that a lot of that prebiotic chemistry is actually happening on Titan today. We are beyond excited for the chance to explore and see what awaits us on this exotic world.”
Titan is easily to be one of the most interesting places for scientists to explore and Dragonfly used Cassini’s data in order to choose the targets of the moon. According to NASA, Dragonfly will land in the equatorial “Shangri-La” dune fields that is extremely similar to the linear dunes in Namibia. Afterwards, the lander will complete a series of ‘leapfrog’ flights and take samples from areas with diverse geography to examine the moon’s composition. And finally, the lander will reach the Selk impact crater to find evidences of past liquid water and organics.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine shared his enthusiasm for the upcoming mission. He said, “Visiting this mysterious ocean world could revolutionize what we know about how life formed in the universe. This cutting-edge mission would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago, but we’re now ready for Dragonfly’s amazing flight.”