Before the cable networks interrupt (probably around 2:45 PM), I thought I’d start the cheering section for the Cassini-Huygens mission and the upcoming pictures from the surface of Titan.
As best I can figure it, we’ve launched a rocket to Saturn… made course corrections along the way, then more enroute, to allow it to fly between Saturn’s rings… then launched a Volkswagen sized space probe, carried on this mothership, to the surface of one of Saturn’s moons.
That just gets us there. On its way down to the surface of Titan, Huygens had to transmit data which was received by Cassini still in its Saturn orbit. There was only one chance for this. Then Cassini swung its antennas around and sent the data to Earth.
At this moment it looks like there’s real data coming back, though no one knows what it shows or if it’s useful… and won’t for another hour and a half. After that we should get photos and atmospheric data from the surface of this other planet’s moon.
It is amazing, even before you realize the Huygens probe had to be packed with sensory equipment that would survive its blast into and journey through space, its separation from Cassini (using pyrotechnics to separate the two) and its plunge through the unknown Titan atmosphere¹.
I have had plenty to say about NASA , most of it bad, in this blog. This is a real positive… a major accomplisment from an engineering standpopint. I’m looking forward to seeing the pictures.
It is amazing what man can do – what should be impossible… if we want to, put the right people on… and throw money at.
¹ – The main reason we find Titan so interesting is that it does have an atmosphere. There are some scientists who feel it replicates the Earth’s during what could have been the dawn of life.