Image Credit: Johns Hopkins APL
At some point, we have all wondered, “Are we alone in the universe?” For decades, people have sought to answer that question and have fantasized about what it would be like to find life elsewhere among the stars. In 2005, NASA's Chief Historian, Steven J. Dick wrote in an essay that one of the driving forces behind space exploration was the search for life:
“Why do we explore? As this essay series suggests, there are many answers. But since the beginning of the Space Age one of the chief drivers has been the search for life beyond Earth. Already in 1962 the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences declared the search for extraterrestrial life as the prime goal of NASA's nascent space biology efforts. ”
Over the years, NASA has made several efforts to find life and research habitability in our solar system. Notoriously, the world watched with bated breath as the Mars rovers trudged around the red planet. With the Mars mission behind us, NASA is ready to start anew with drones leading their latest plan.
Video Credit: NASA
While we’ve been discussing what drones are doing down here on Earth, NASA is planning on sending a drone into space. Announced on June 27th of this year, Dragonfly is NASA’s fourth mission of the New Frontiers program. It’s also the name of the drone due for Titan. NASA aims to launch Dragonfly rotorcraft in 2026 with the goal of it landing on Saturn’s Moon Titan by 2036. Titan is Saturn’s largest moon out of 62 and our solar system’s second-largest moon overall.
On their website, the Dragonfly team explains that Titan was chosen because of its oceanic nature and dense atmosphere. Scientists consider Titan to be the heavenly body within our solar system that’s most similar to Earth, containing an abundance of “complex organic material” worth studying to understand extraterrestrial habitability.
Image Credit: Johns Hopkins APL
The Dragonfly is a dual-quadcopter that’s equipped with a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG) to supply it with power. Dragonfly will fly around exploring specific areas of Titan’s geography and collecting samples. According to Dragonfly’s team, their drone was “designed to take advantage of Titan's environment to sample materials and determine surface composition in different geologic settings.”
This mission will be helmed by a team from Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) that’s comprised of leading Titan scientists, space system engineers and rotorcraft experts. This team has an immeasurable amount of experience and understanding of our solar system, and it will be exciting to see what they will accomplish.
Image Credit: Dragonfly
What do you think team Dragonfly will find on its mission? Will the drone fare better than the rovers?
I am a writer and an artist based in Georgia. Specializing in illustration, graphic design, and video art, I love to explore the new ways technology intersects with art. I think drones have done amazing things for photography and video art, making what would previously be costly and difficult more accessible. As a complete novice, it was only recently that I saw what independent artists could do with their drones, and I continue to be impressed by the sights that drones are able to explore and the images they can capture. Instagram: @tyesha.ferron