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Proposed NASA Mission Would Sail the Seas of Titan

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the can-the-sirens-be-far-behind dept.

Space 197

The BBC has a report on a proposal that will be submitted to NASA for funding — a mission to Saturn's moon Titan that would deposit a lander on its hydrocarbon sea. (We recently discussed the widely-circulated photo of sunlight glinting off one of Titan's seas.) "The scientific team behind the idea is targeting Ligeia Mare, a vast body of liquid methane sited in the high north of Saturn's largest moon. ... 'It is something that would really capture the imagination,' said Dr Ellen Stofan, from Proxemy Research, who leads the study team. 'The story of human exploration on Earth has been one of navigation and seafaring, and the idea that we could explore for the first time an extraterrestrial sea I think would be mind-blowing for most people,' she told BBC News. ... The Titan Mare Explorer (TiME) has already been under study for about two years. It is envisaged as a relatively low-cost endeavor — in the low $400m range. It could launch in January 2016, and make some flybys of Earth and Jupiter to pick up the gravitational energy it would need to head straight at the Saturnian moon for a splash down in June 2023."

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197 comments

Sailing the myriad seas? (5, Funny)

newcastlejon (1483695) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501092)

The story of human exploration on Earth has been one of navigation and seafaring, and the idea that we could explore for the first time an extraterrestrial sea I think would be mind-blowing for most people

Oh come on, everyone knows that once you invent satellites the whole map is revealed!

Re:Sailing the myriad seas? (1)

SilverHatHacker (1381259) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501126)

Just imagine what'll happen when they circumnavigate Titan and figure out it's actually round!

Re:Sailing the myriad seas? (2, Funny)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501740)

Just imagine what'll happen when they circumnavigate Titan and figure out it's actually round!

So is a pizza. That doesn't mean it isn't also flat. Titan could be the same way. They always warn you about falling off the edge - but what if something comes FROM off the edge?! Didn't think of THAT, DID you?!

That's right...I went there.

Re:Sailing the myriad seas? (1)

Pingmaster (1049548) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501756)

Wait wait wait, so you're saying that Titan could have a cheese stuffed crust too?

Re:Sailing the myriad seas? (1)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501844)

Wait wait wait, so you're saying that Titan could have a cheese stuffed crust too?

It's _possible_. There's only one way to be sure - someone's going to have to go out there. Any volunteers?

Re:Sailing the myriad seas? (2, Insightful)

msauve (701917) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501342)

Your point is correct. "The story of human exploration" and seafaring was purposed on finding the distant shore, and what was there. On Earth, other than finding new life forms, the surface of the sea is pretty uninteresting. For a space mission, you can go to that distant shore directly. Not much chance of finding life in a sea of methane (and if there were life, you'd expect it to be everywhere in that sea).

Other than providing a gimmick to make this different than previous missions, what's the point? Land something in a sea of methane and look for what? Sail around to find more liquid methane?

Re:Sailing the myriad seas? (0)

Sanat (702) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501394)

I certainly hope that they don't use retro-rockets to lower the floating device down to a sea of methane. It might not be a pretty picture.

Sort of reminds me of the guy that was brazing a part onto his shotgun barrel having forgotten to unload it first.

Re:Sailing the myriad seas? (5, Insightful)

geckipede (1261408) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501436)

The gravity is weak enough and the atmosphere thick enough that you barely even need a parachute. In any case, the only thing rockets could do to the methane there would be to boil some of it - there's no free oxygen out there to react with.

Re:Sailing the myriad seas? (2, Informative)

Sanat (702) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501496)

I did know that actually, but thanks for sharing it in more detail.

It was just my pathetic attempt at being silly.

Re:Sailing the myriad seas? (1)

thrawn_aj (1073100) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501792)

The gravity is weak enough and the atmosphere thick enough that you barely even need a parachute. In any case, the only thing rockets could do to the methane there would be to boil some of it - there's no free oxygen out there to react with.

Point taken (and very good point :)) but surely it's not that simple. If the boat's engine has a combustion chamber of any kind, surely there will be some oxygen on board. Oxygen leaking out near nozzles or methane/other hydrocarbons leaking IN could be just as bad. Of course, running any kind of engine inside a new kind of atmosphere means completely rethinking (or at least thinking through) the engine design and combustion chemistry. What's waterproof may not be proof against liquids with different physical and chemical properties.

Re:Sailing the myriad seas? (2, Informative)

Lord Pillage (815466) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501446)

Unfortunately both of those incidents require oxygen to occur. Tough luck there's not much of that on Titan.

Re:Sailing the myriad seas? (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501864)

And how do you propose the engines work? maybe they should carry their own oxygen with the vessel while it is in space?

Unless of course they go for the bouncy ball approach vector.

Re:Sailing the myriad seas? (2, Interesting)

thrawn_aj (1073100) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501772)

Heh, yeah. First thing I thought of too. This better be a sailboat they're planning to use. Wait, does Titan have strong winds?

Re:Sailing the myriad seas? (2, Interesting)

SleepingWaterBear (1152169) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501544)

Well, conditions on the earth vary dramatically with location, even ignoring biological and biogenic variation. It seems to me that a vessel capable of performing tests over a wider area can't help but provide better data. One of the big downsides of the Mars rovers is that they're restricted to such a small portion of the planet's surface, especially since for the Titan mission this can apparently be achieved on a low budget. I mean, what reason do we have to think that the chemical composition of the ocean and atmosphere don't vary with location? What about things like currents, and winds? Maybe we'll find something that's entirely unexpected!

Maybe Star Wars was right and planets other than earth are all 'desert' planets or 'ice' planets with uniform conditions all around, but if not, this seems worthwhile!

Re:Sailing the myriad seas? (4, Interesting)

FiloEleven (602040) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501566)

There are a number of good reasons for doing this.

The primary objective of the mission would be to determine the precise chemistry of one of these lakes; but also to do meteorology, to help scientists better understand how the "methane-ologic cycle" on Titan actually works.

It would give scientists the opportunity to study shared climate processes at work under very different conditions.

"If we have models that will work on Earth and on Titan then we can be much more confident that those models understand the fundamentals of what's going on," explained the researcher from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

"The photogenic appeal and the mystique of exploring a sea on another world speak for themselves, but there is a genuine practical application to do with the science that will help us address problems here on Earth."

Plus it's already been under study for two years, and it would test a "novel power system," the Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator.

ASRGs would give TiME sufficient energy to support a very capable instrument suite and a direct-to-Earth communications system to get its data home.

Not to mention that Titan looks like one of the best nearby candidates for life, specifically in its seas and not on its surface. Landing on Titan's shores is apt to be far less interesting than in its seas.

Re:Sailing the myriad seas? (3, Insightful)

thrawn_aj (1073100) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501764)

Other than providing a gimmick to make this different than previous missions, what's the point? Land something in a sea of methane and look for what? Sail around to find more liquid methane?

You're probably right. Aw hell, scratch the 'probably'. Speaking purely personally though, this is the first time in the past 10 years I've actually felt a stirring in my heart about space exploration. This Titan thing actually brought back some of the magic of space that used to come through so vividly in the science fiction of the 80s (before the post-modernist hacks stank up the place). Huh, let's just say that as a taxpayer, I wouldn't be in the least upset if this mission actually happened. In fact, I'd be out there cheering it on all the way. Go figure :). Guess science is far from unemotional eh?

Re:Sailing the myriad seas? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30501766)

If we knew what we'd find, there would be little point in going. And why are you so sure that we shouldn't find life in a sea of methane? Sure, nothing evolved on earth would survive there, but that's the point - it wouldn't be life evolved on earth. Maybe the ammonia seas of other moons are better candidates what with amonia sharing some of the "unique" properties of water (like floating ice) but I'm not as certain as you about where life can and can't evolve, given time and space.

And then of course there's the whole "exploring for the sake of exploring" thing. To get any real data we need to land something on Titan, and the most obviously interesting places are the methane lakes. You could land on a shore but with the dense atmosphere there's probably going to be waves and it's easier to just go ahead and build a boat then to build a crawler that can also tolerate being under water.

Odds of finding alien life? (4, Funny)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501108)

At least it could find a few sirens.

Re:Odds of finding alien life? (1)

Bat Country (829565) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501152)

They'd have better luck trying Europa... At least they think there may be liquid water under the ice on Europa. Find some mermaids.

Come to think of it, whatever happened to that Europa lander they were planning which was supposed to bore through the ice?

Re:Odds of finding alien life? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501176)

Come to think of it, whatever happened to that Europa lander they were planning which was supposed to bore through the ice?

Maybe it could share a launch with TiME? Its much harder to do a soft landing on Europa of course.

Re:Odds of finding alien life? (5, Funny)

newcastlejon (1483695) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501182)

Europa? But we're not allowed to attempt any landings there!

Re:Odds of finding alien life? (4, Funny)

Foobar of Borg (690622) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501362)

Europa? But we're not allowed to attempt any landings there!

Well, we still have a few weeks before we're supposed to get the warning.

Re:Odds of finding alien life? (4, Informative)

Ash Vince (602485) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501238)

Come to think of it, whatever happened to that Europa lander they were planning which was supposed to bore through the ice?

As soon as you do this you risk contaminating what is underneath so you have to do this incredibly carefully. Last I heard it was on hold until they had figured out how to do it such a way that they did not introduce any contaminants in the process. They are looking to use a lake under the south pole for practice:

http://www.spacedaily.com/news/mars-driller-02b.html [spacedaily.com]
http://www.innovations-report.com/html/reports/earth_sciences/report-11000.html [innovations-report.com]

Re:Odds of finding alien life? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30501282)

How about lasers?

that'd be awesome.

Re:Odds of finding alien life? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30501604)

They also have to make sure they can safely transport any mermaids they find back to earth.

Re:Odds of finding alien life? (2, Informative)

apostrophesemicolon (816454) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501680)

The Europa lander did go up there, landed and took some video for a few second until some kind of mecha broke it. And that's the last we heard from it.

Care to buy my ancestor's glasses?

Are any non-profits doing anything like this? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30501134)

I would seriously be interested in donating maybe a hundred dollars toward something like this, and I can't be the only one. Are there any non-profit organizations that fund similar missions?

Re:Are any non-profits doing anything like this? (3, Informative)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501476)

The problem is, even the best commercial spacecraft can't even go to the moon, let alone further. The best thing that could be done is donating money to a college or university that develops the technology that is used by NASA or the ESA that would allow them to do it. Any money put into non profits would quickly go to waste, theres just no way you can send something to Titan without governmental assistance.

Re:Are any non-profits doing anything like this? (1)

Dragonslicer (991472) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501494)

I would seriously be interested in donating maybe a hundred dollars toward something like this, and I can't be the only one.

Find just 3,999,999 more, and you'll have enough for this mission.

Re:Are any non-profits doing anything like this? (2, Interesting)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501518)

A better place to donate for space projects would be the Planetary Society's solar sail proof-of-concept project.
   

Titan Landing Probes (4, Interesting)

ranson (824789) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501136)

Interestingly enough, the Cassini Orbiter's landing probe, the Huygens, which landed on Titan a few years back, was designed with floatation devices, just in case it hit liquid instead land (ultimately it hit land). An interesting fact about Titan: the high density of the atmosphere, combined with a much lower gravitational force than that of earth results in very soft probe landings. In fact, it is hypothesized that on Titan, a human could strap fake wings on his arms and fly -- now if only we breathed methane and could survive at temperatures colder than -200F...

Re:Titan Landing Probes (3, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501270)

I suppose another way would be to build a balloon borne probe, probably using hydrogen for buoyancy. It could compress the hydrogen to land, and release hydrogen to lift.

Re:Titan Landing Probes (1)

slashchuck (617840) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501312)

Read "The Quiet War" by Paul McAuley [amazon.com] Fascinating SF novel of humanity on Titan and other moons of Saturn.

Re:Titan Landing Probes (1)

Jeremy Erwin (2054) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501546)

There's also Stephen Baxter's Titan [amazon.com] . The ending is uplifting, and gives the reader hope for the (distant) future of humanity.

Re:Titan Landing Probes (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501652)

Dunno I found the book to be a bit of a downer over all. Baxter can't be a happy guy if he is having thoughts like that all the time.

Re:Titan Landing Probes (1)

tftp (111690) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501918)

There's also Stephen Baxter's Titan. The ending is uplifting

Unfortunately I have read the book. The ending is absurd, so it's pointless to debate whether it is uplifting or not. Besides, before you get to the ending you must make your way through the preceding chapters without tearing the book into shreds. It's indeed not for everyone to read about several suiciders who fall prey to one horrible accident or another, without any hope of surviving and seeing Earth die. And all that is for nothing, of course. What an invigorating story it is not!

Amazon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30501552)

Link to a filehost or torrent instead of Amazon, and then we'll care.

Re:Amazon? (1)

slashchuck (617840) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501946)

Link to a filehost or torrent instead of Amazon, and then we'll care.

I got my copy from the local public library.

Re:Titan Landing Probes (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501482)

In fact, it is hypothesized that on Titan, a human could strap fake wings on his arms and fly

No, honey, I haven't gone cookoo; I'm practicing for emergency landings on the Titan mission.
 

Re:Titan Landing Probes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30501856)

Speak for yourself. Personally, I have gone cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.

Re:Titan Landing Probes (4, Interesting)

deglr6328 (150198) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501488)

What's missing from this discussion, and so far as I can see from any proposal site discussions on this mission, is how to get the data back from the probe! If this is going to be a lander without an orbiter, you have a SERIOUS problem of how to get data back to earth. We talked about this very topic 5 years ago here [slashdot.org] after Huygens landed. People are going to want high-res images, audio and at least some video in addition to all the other basic science data from this mission. That is a HUGE amount of information to get back to earth from a billion miles out, while floating on a lake of CH4 under a thick atmosphere. The Huygens probe had 2 redundant, 8 watt, medium gain (partially directional) on board radio transmitters that sent all the data from the probe through the Cassini orbiter relay system. It took VLBI aperture synthesis, simultaneously using ~20 of some of the largest radio telescopes around the world JUST TO HEAR THE CARRIER SIGNAL of Huygens as it descended on Titan. We couldn't get any actual data directly from Huygens, we couldn't hear modulation of the signal clearly from that far away.

Huygens had a power budget from its NaS batteries of ~250W, you're not going to do much better than that with a sterling radioisotope generator for this proposed mission. So you have maybe 20W of radio power to use on this mission in order to get all your data back from Titan, you NEED to use a directional (high gain) antenna to do that. How the hell do you accurately and consistently point a high gain antenna directly at earth when rotating and bobbing around wildly while floating over the waves of a Titanian lake?!

Re:Titan Landing Probes (1)

FiloEleven (602040) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501612)

TFA says this:

ASRGs would give TiME sufficient energy to support a very capable instrument suite and a direct-to-Earth communications system to get its data home. The generators - TiME would carry two - could conceivably sustain several years of service on the lake surface.

Would 500W be enough? You seem to know what you're talking about, but I suspect NASA does too. It would be interesting to find out how (and if) they overcame the objections you raise.

Re:Titan Landing Probes (1)

FiloEleven (602040) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501644)

Actually, someone posted below that the ASRG is rated at 140W, so the total would be 280W. Looks like your power estimate is spot-on.

Re:Titan Landing Probes (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501642)

Ah but that discussion talks about phased arrays and even if you need a steerable antenna I suppose thats a lot easier to do these days with microcontrollers and compact servos.

Indignant antenna designers are invited to contemplate ABM search radars...

-Arthur C Clarke

Re:Titan Landing Probes (1)

tftp (111690) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501964)

that discussion talks about phased arrays

You need to know your orientation and position to control the antenna. On Earth that would be done with GPS augmented with an inertial system when GPS signal is not available. Additionally you need to know the orientation, that can be done (again on Earth) by magnetic compass and by Sun/stars. On Titan there is no GPS, not much is known about its magnetic field (and interference from Saturn is huge,) and astronomy may or may not work depending on how fast the vessel moves and what is visible in the sky. Liquid methane probably also has low viscosity, which makes things worse.

Re:Titan Landing Probes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30501734)

I'll bet no one now reading this remembers the James Blish story 'How Beautiful With Banners'.

That is all...

Picture (3, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501144)

Wikipedia has a picture [wikipedia.org] showing the probe floating on Titan.

One question I can immediately see an answer to is whether the ASRG [wikipedia.org] generates as much power in vacuum as it will on the surface of Titan. My assumption is that having a weaker heat sink will reduce power output but I can't confirm that.

Re:Picture (1)

newcastlejon (1483695) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501166)

My assumption is that having a weaker heat sink will reduce power output but I can't confirm that.

I really ought to know the answer to this, but at least they'll have convection to help.

Re:Picture (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501228)

One question I can immediately see an answer to is whether the ASRG [wikipedia.org] generates as much power in vacuum as it will on the surface of Titan. My assumption is that having a weaker heat sink will reduce power output but I can't confirm that.

On the contrary, a vacuum makes a very poor heat sink. If anything, being immersed in an atmosphere that is as cold as Titan's may lower the effective Tc due to the higher thermal conductivity of the surrounding atmosphere. The lower the Tc, the higher the Carnot efficiency although any effect either way probably won't amount to much in terms of an efficiency difference.

Re:Picture (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501246)

No thats what I mean. If they use this stirling engine will they get sufficient power to run the vehicle while they are in vacuum?

Re:Picture (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501296)

I'm sure they've thought of this. The engine is rated at 140W and presumably is tested for the conditions it will endure especially vacuum operation. Then again they did have errors in the burn calculations of that one probe that was destroyed in the Martian atmosphere. Trivialities like forgetting to convert standard to metric...

Re:Picture (1)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501302)

The heatsink might be smaller but being immersed in liquid methane, or in a thick very cold atmosphere, ought to make it work like gangbusters - much better than in air on Earth at 70 deg. The real issue will be keeping it from freezing but the delta-T should be incredible.

          Brett

Low cost? (0)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501160)

For US$400 million, people could create a Wikipedia of open technology and help the human race transition to a post-scarcity society. Instead we get a boat ride? (Not to say it is not a cool idea.)
    http://www.kurtz-fernhout.com/oscomak/index.htm [kurtz-fernhout.com]

Re:Low cost? (1)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501184)

Probing things is what we do. I dare say the first probe was a finger, now look at us! We shall continue to probe where no probe has probed before!
Probe on my friends, probe on.

Re:Low cost? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30501196)

About an hour ago I was probing my ass with a small dildo.
Feels good man.

Re:Low cost? (4, Insightful)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501276)

That "boat ride" is about .01% of the federal budget or what we spent on Iraq in less than 10 hours.

Re:Low cost? (1)

M. Baranczak (726671) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501994)

Another way to look at it:

If you took the money that went into making "Waterworld" and "Van Helsing" you'd almost have $400 mil. Throw in "King Arthur", and you've got an extra $35 million left over. (Source [the-numbers.com] )

I would gladly have sacrificed those gems of cinematography for the sake of space exploration.

Re:Low cost? (1)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501278)

Are you kidding? Resources will always be scarce as long as we use only the resources on the Earth.

Besides that, someone has to do the work, and work isn't free or cheap.

Re:Low cost? (1)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501370)

Post-scarcity society? Not in our wildest dreams. Even Stephenson's Diamond Age was set in a society with scarcity, albeit one of a different variety, and we're not anywhere close to even that level of technology.

Do you mean a society that doesn't include economic growth? That defies human nature, and would require a society so oppressive that Stalin would look like a hippie.

As for as NASA: sure, it produces pretty pictures and produces technological spin-offs, but it also maintains our prestige in the world by employing top scientists to do top research. It continues a 400 year old tradition of discovery, and ennobles the human spirit. It's wonderful.

I am tired of people complaining about NASA's budget. It's really a bargain. A penny out of every dollar you pay in taxes goes toward it. If you've printed out a gorgeous photograph for your well, or read an article and said "hrm, that's interesting", or eaten freeze-dried food, you've more than gotten your money's worth.

NASA already had plans for post-scarcity (1)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501860)

3D printing, robots, AI, better design, renewable energy, and so on. These things can produce more than most people need for a good life. How about NASA spending money on this old idea first?
    "Advanced Automation for Space Missions"
    http://www.islandone.org/MMSG/aasm/ [islandone.org]
"What follows is a portion of the final report of a NASA summer study, conducted in 1980 by request of newly-
elected President Jimmy Carter at a cost of 11.7 million dollars. The result of the study was a realistic proposal for a self-replicating automated lunar factory system, capable of exponentially increasing productive capacity and, in the long run, exploration of the entire galaxy within a reasonable timeframe. Unfortunately, the proposal was quietly declined with barely a ripple in the press. What was once concievable with 1980's technology is now even more practical today. Even if you're just skimming through this document, the potential of this proposed system
is undeniable. Please enjoy. "

But now, we get "taken for a ride" by a few scientists instead.

Re:Low cost? (2, Insightful)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501752)

Hrm, let's see ... spend $400 million to explore grand new vistas and expand the sum total of human knowledge ... or spend $400 million on a website. I dunno, that's a tough one ...

heheheh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30501172)

anyone else think of sailing the sausage seas?

It'll SINK (1)

Whiteox (919863) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501226)

Damn idiots! What do they expect?
'Landing' a probe on a sea of liquid hydrocarbons....
I hope it's got floaties on it.

Re:It'll SINK (1)

mdenham (747985) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501272)

Right, it'll sink. Just like the Apollo capsules sank when they did re-entry into the ocean.

Re:It'll SINK (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501314)

Buoyancy won't be the same on Titan because the hydrocarbon fluid will have a lower density than water and the atmosphere is much more dense. But that said buoyancy on Titan is easy to calculate and I would be surprised if the designers of TiME have not done their sums.

Gus's mercury sank BTW.

Re:It'll SINK (1)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501770)

Gus's mercury sank BTW.

I'm guessing that this probe PROBABLY won't have any explosively-operated escape hatches ...

I'm glad they admitted their motivations (2, Insightful)

RepelHistory (1082491) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501260)

'It is something that would really capture the imagination,' said Dr Ellen Stofan, from Proxemy Research, who leads the study team. 'The story of human exploration on Earth has been one of navigation and seafaring, and the idea that we could explore for the first time an extraterrestrial sea I think would be mind-blowing for most people,'

Sometimes the point of science need be be nothing more than to capture our imaginations and/or blow our minds.

Re:I'm glad they admitted their motivations (1)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501384)

They can't tell you the REAL reason. I mean the tax payers would bit a bit ticked off, and feel like we'd been "had" if the $400M price tag was just to deliver a chronosynclastic infundibulum!

Can't wait to fund this. (-1, Flamebait)

geekmux (1040042) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501294)

It never ceases to amaze me what we'll spend money on. What exactly is the point of this $400M venture, other than it would be "really cool" to sail the seas of ass gas?

What...the...fuck, already.

Oh, wait, I forgot. We have no debts on Earth to worry about right now, financial or otherwise for the human race. Nevermind. It's all good, obviously.

Re:Can't wait to fund this. (4, Insightful)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501338)

This sort of BS analysis has been around forever. What do you think it going to happen with the $400 million? Think we are going to launch it into space? That goes to creating jobs, and the various space programs are *a lot* more effective than the close to $2 *trillion* spent on the other bogus stimulus plans in actual job creation. Even Governor Moonbeam himself has recognized the value of the space program in economic terms.

        Now, if all we were going to do was pay someone to tell us what Titan is like, certainly the information would not be worth it. Pure science has never been and will never be the purpose of NASA. But building things to find out (and this creating movement in the economy and jobs) pays off.

        Brett

       

Re:Can't wait to fund this. (2, Insightful)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501364)

It never ceases to amaze me what we'll spend money on.

It's certainly a better use for 400M than bailing out a bunch of banks...

What exactly is the point of this $400M venture, other than it would be "really cool" to sail the seas of ass gas?

Furthering human knowledge and exploration of our solar system.

Oh, wait, I forgot. We have no debts on Earth to worry about right now, financial or otherwise for the human race. Nevermind. It's all good, obviously.

Sitting here on Earth for perpetuity won't solve our problems. Most of the problems we have here on Earth that are able to be addressed at all are largely the result of a poorly structured economic system in one form or another.

Re:Can't wait to fund this. (1)

FiloEleven (602040) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501662)

It's certainly a better use for 400M than bailing out a bunch of banks...

Seriously. $400M here, $400M there...pretty soon we're talking real money ;)

Re:Can't wait to fund this. (4, Insightful)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501698)

I wouldn't mind paying my taxes toward space missions like this; it's all the other frivilous crap like bailouts, corporate welfare, corn subsidies and unnecessary wars that are really disgusting uses of tax dollars.

hydrocarbons (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30501332)

Where did this methane come from? The common wisdom is that terrestrial hydrocarbons come from old dead stuff. Maybe not?

This is exactly what we should be doing (2, Interesting)

DesScorp (410532) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501366)

This idea is beyond awesome. Sending a "ship" to sail the seas of another world. And the price... $400 million... is uber-cheap in the world of space exploration.

Unless we can send a man to a near-Earth asteroid, this is the kind of exploration NASA should be doing... not manned attempts at Mars. Not yet.

Re:This is exactly what we should be doing (2, Interesting)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501374)

Not yet.

What exactly are your prerequisites for a manned mission then?

Re:This is exactly what we should be doing (4, Interesting)

DesScorp (410532) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501414)

Not yet.

What exactly are your prerequisites for a manned mission then?

My concerns here about manned exploration are twofold:

One, unless we're going to build a real, permanent base on the moon, and actually keep men there for extended periods of time, then we shouldn't be going back to the moon right now. It'd be a waste, and nothing more than reliving old glories without breaching new frontiers. And with declining budgets, if we actually did go back to the moon, we wouldn't stay. Again, it would essentialy be doing it just to say that we still could. A waste. So the first argument is about needless waste of funds.

Two, as far as the other oft-proposed trip... to Mars... we shouldn't do it because of cost, but mostly, because the technology just isn't there. Specifically, we're lacking a way to keep astronauts fed and healthy for the very long trip. Suspended animation is still science fiction at this point, so unless a true breakthrough in space travel speed is found, we currently have no way to send a bunch of men on a months-long journey to another planet and back, at least not in a manner that we can afford.

The asteroid mission right now is the only place we can actually land a man involving fairly short distances, and with the virtue of it being real exploration, literally where no man has gone before.

May I be the first to say: (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501522)

Fuck the moon! Fuck mars*! THIS is the stuff! Yeah!

To me that would be the coolest mission, since the moon landing. The only other thing I can think of, that comes close, are the satellites that are already leaving the solar system.

(* To those with emotional deficiencies *nudge* *nudge*: Of course I don’t mean that we should completely ignore mars, or even the moon. It’s just that it’s silly to focus on a moon landing, when on the other hand, you got stuff like this! The stuff that is every scientist’s and every layman’s wet dream of exploration. The feeling of being on a place, that others can’t even imagine!! And the science that would come out of it, would just be crazy!)

Re:May I be the first to say: (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501574)

I actually think a manned mission to Titan should be considered. I would suggest using fission reactors and ion drives for propulsion. Degree of difficulty might be about the same as the Apollo program in 1960 or so.

Re:May I be the first to say: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30501810)

I actually think a monorail, a giant popsicle skyscraper AND an escalator that leads to nowhere should be considered. I would suggest using solar power and electric motors for propulsion (as needed). Degree of difficulty might be somewhat less than the Apollo program in 1960 or so.

Re:May I be the first to say: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30501600)

You high, nigga.

And Maryann's shorts (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501528)

"Skipper, I thought you said this was only a three hour tour."

Re:And Maryann's shorts (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501816)

"Skipper, I thought you said this was only a three hour tour."

"I'm sure it appears to be, from some reference frame."

"Fuck you, Professor."

Europa or bust -- Titan sucks.. (3, Interesting)

tetrahedrassface (675645) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501582)

Not trying to flame or troll, but these missions keep coming up. Even proposed and not funded like this one to Titan, take away from where we sorely need to explore. Poor Europa languishes [wikimedia.org] ! Europa quite possibly has the best odds of actually having something worth the funding of mission; namely life. While I note the Planetary Society has pushed for a Europa mission for what seems like years now, the date of even some weird overly complex multi-national mission in 2020 is suspect.. Why on Earth is a mission to Europa not fast tracked? A craft much like Cassini/Huygens with some radar to actually see under the ice could have been designed, built and launched 10 or 15 years ago. Titan has already had a lander. Cassini is in orbit around Saturn, and while neat and cool, only Enceladus might have life, but the odds of life on Enceladus seem dimmer and more remote. Despite statements that are politically motivated (read: funding) what is the fun factor of going to Titan when we have a fruit before us in Europa that desperately deserves to be explored? I don't know these answers but when you look at the frozen surface of Europa and notice the red striations that appear in cracks in the water ice it sure looks like iron or possibly sulphur, but most likely something along the lines of halobacteria just like this! [palomar.edu]

Maybe our agencies don't want to find life yet, as some societal and religious aspects of there being life somewhere else would drive the religious folk crazy, or maybe they don't want to contaminate Europa. Whatever the reason they need to get off of their collective rear ends (asses) and do a mission there before even going back to Mars. I just get tired of the new bright and shiny and unpaid for missions, and some of the more dumb funded one that just go in circles snapping images of useless real estate, when Europa truly deserves, on all levels, a serious series of missions that bring light to what resides under the ice.

Re:Europa or bust -- Titan sucks.. (1)

dirkdodgers (1642627) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501700)

I agree. I wish our leaders would go back to publicly embracing what space exploration is about. It's about imagination, about hope and inspiration, about the ennoblement of the human spirit, and yes, also about some really cool science. My hope was that Obama would recognize this, but so far he doesn't seem to be able to see much beyond science as some kind of economic stimulus.

What greater question is there for every human being, regardless of how rich or poor they may be, than whether we are alone in the universe?

To die having not done everything we could to look right under our noses would be agony.

But it doesn't capture the public's imagination (1)

dirkdodgers (1642627) | more than 4 years ago | (#30501670)

Human exploration is what capture's the public's imagination.

We are driving robots around on the surface of Mars. That is really cool. As a kid I never thought this is how it would happen.

We have now sent probes outside our own solar system. That is a humbling experience, to be be alive in the generation in which mankind first extends its reach beyond its home solar system.

But apart from a few news broadcasts and scoping out some pictures on the internet, the public has hardly batted an eye. We need to get back to pushing the boundaries of human space exploration. Yes there are more practical matters to apply resources to, yes it violates a minority's view of the philosophy of government, but I am hard pressed to care.

We have one life to live. Let's push as hard as we can, as far as we can. Let's put a permanent base on the Moon in 10 years. Let's put a permanent base on Mars in 15 years. Let's mine asteroids for resources. Let's turn those bases into colonies.

Where's our perspective? Where's our human spirit? The problems we face on this pale blue dot are utterly insignificant in scheme of the cosmos.

Let's go see what's out there, or fail spectacularly trying, but at least having tried.

Alien Pirates (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30501690)

two words: what if?

Gas station Titan (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30501710)

Forget exploration.

Send a fleet of container ships and balloons with siphons to such the gasoline and other distillates from the surface up to the orbiting gas-cans. From Titan, just a small nudge from orbit and the ride is free all the way back sun-ward to Earth.

Remember boys, don't flame a fag out their or the whole thing will ignite.

Re:Gas station Titan (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30501746)

Obama will never allow this! He intends to fully live up to his agreement to keep Saudi Arabia the Earth's gas can. Just look at all the cash he gets from the Saudi Kingdom through the US Postal Service. You'd think he must think he's Al Capone and the money is Canadian Whiskey.

"What are we doing here?"

"A liquor raid!"

"Here! ... At the U.S. Post Office?!"

"Ness, it's no secret of where the booze is, and who is behind it."

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