I was pretty excited about the Mars Curiosity landing.
By the time the night of the landing finally rolled around, I'd already watched NASA's "7 minutes of terror" video about a dozen times, and as the minutes ticked down, I was watching the live feed from the control room at Jet Propulsion Laboratories. I shared their tension as they received word that the rover's capsule had entered the Martian atmosphere, knowing that by the time that word arrived here, the rover had already been on the planet's surface (one way or the other) for seven minutes, and I shared in their elation as Curiosity reported in that it was safe and sound.
So, believe me when I say that I wasn't thinking "Fine. You've done that now. What's next?"
Honestly, though... what IS next?
Over the next two weeks, NASA will be exploring three options. The first is to gather information on how planets form by having a lander drill into the surface of Mars. The second is another mission to visit a comet. The third, which is probably the most ambitious and definitely the one I find most interesting, is a mission to Saturn's largest moon, Titan.
Titan is roughly 50% bigger than Earth's moon, and about 80% more massive. It is the only moon in our solar system with a dense atmosphere, and the only other object, other than Earth, that has stable bodies of liquid on its surface.
This summer has seen a lot of news about Titan, as the Cassini Spacecraft sent back data from its flybys, including views of a giant lake of methane, and a strange atmospheric vortex at its south pole.
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Cassini has given us a lot of information, but there are some things it wasn't designed for. The Titan Saturn System mission would involve dropping a boat into the moon's atmosphere to land on a methane lake and look for organic molecules, while the vehicle that got it there continues on to one of the smaller moons of Saturn, Enceladus, to examine volcanic geysers near its south pole for any signs of organic molecules there.
Quite honestly, while I'm sending 'Titan' vibes at NASA, I'll take any of the three missions, as long as we continue to send out missions to explore the wonders of this solar system.
(Photo courtesy Associated Press)