Benjamin Allmendinger Tilson
School: International School of Kenya
Teacher: Patricia Newmyer
I chose Titan because of the evidence that it has a subsurface ocean of liquid water mixed with some form of antifreeze like ammonia. Additionally, the fact that it’s the only moon in the solar system that has a thick atmosphere and the only celestial body to have lakes, rivers and oceans of liquid hydrocarbons on the surface sets it apart from Europa and Enceladus. The landing spot I chose is Sinlap, a circular depression at 11.3° north and 16° west. I chose Sinlap because nothing is known about its formation and studying it could help our understanding of the formation of it and other features. Additionally, it is right next to a lake which could be sampled to learn more.
I am amazed by the fact that Titan could not only have life as we know it in the theorized subsurface oceans using liquid water as a solvent but could also have extremophiles living on the surface using liquid methane or ammonia. It also amazes me that a place with as low gravity as Titan could have an atmosphere two and a half times that of Earth’s. When we return to Titan I hope we find extraterrestrial life. In the event we do, it would be, in my opinion, the greatest discovery humanity has ever made.
When we return to Titan, the mission I’ve designed would have three parts to the payload: an orbiter, a lander, and a “hydrobot” to probe the subsurface ocean. It would launch and once in solar orbit would take a trajectory similar to the one used in the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft to get to the outer solar system and Saturn. Then once at Saturn, it would perform a Titan orbital injection burn to get it into Titanean orbit. Once in orbit, the lander and hydrobot would detach from the orbiter which would remain in orbit to relay data back to earth and monitor weather.
Then the probe would enter the atmosphere where the heat shield would protect against atmospheric heating and slow it down to the point where it could deploy its parachute to slow it on the way to the surface. Once landed, it would deploy the hydrobot which would drill toward the subsurface ocean. Meanwhile, on the surface, the lander would have similarities to the proposed “dragonfly” mission in that it would be similar to a quadcopter so it could visit multiple locations to maximize the amount of Titan’s surface that we can study.
I think that Titan is incredible, capable of sustaining life in not just one but two ways, one that doesn’t even exist on earth. Additionally, if life is discovered we would be forced to accept that we are not alone and that life almost certainly will evolve wherever the conditions are right. Finally, I think that answering the question are we alone is the most important goal in space exploration so we should target places most likely to harbor life and that is why I chose Titan.