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Headshot of Emily Lakdawalla

Saturn's still there

Posted By Emily Lakdawalla

22-08-2012 7:01 CDT

Topics: Cassini, pretty pictures, amateur image processing, Saturn, Saturn's rings

This week, a Mars geophysical lander was selected as the next NASA mission (yay), chosen over the other options of a comet lander or a Titan boat (boo). I like InSIGHT and am thrilled that we will finally be sending a seismometer to another planet. But I'm sad, even mournful, too, for the non-selections of CHopper and TiME. I knew more about TiME than CHopper, so I'm sadder about that one.

Opportunities to explore the outer planets are quite rare, because they depend on chance alignments of (usually) two inner planets with the target outer one to set up gravity assists. While InSIGHT could've been flown on a future Mars launch opportunity, 26 or 52 or 78 months from now, TiME (the Titan boat) cannot.

Surely one day we'll send a mission to explore Titan's lakes. But our current expert Titan scientists will be retired (or worse) before that happens.

Cassini's still there at Saturn, still returning breathtaking images like the one below, taken the day before yesterday. Who knows when the next emissary from Earth will visit there. Is Saturn still pretty if there's no human -- or spacecraft serving as an avatar of a human -- there to see it?

Saturn on August 20, 2012

NASA / JPL / SSI / Emily Lakdawalla

Saturn on August 20, 2012
Cassini captured the images used to make this color composite of Saturn on August 20, 2012. Cassini was on the southern side of the ring plane with the Sun in the north, so the opaque B ring appears very dark while the transparent A and C rings are lighter. The rings cast shadows on Saturn's southern hemisphere.
See other posts from August 2012


Read more blog entries about: Cassini, pretty pictures, amateur image processing, Saturn, Saturn's rings


railmeat: 08/22/2012 09:13 CDT

I am sure the geophysicis of Mars is important, however I was very disapponted that they did not choose the TiME mission. That seemed like a truly audacius mission. A robot boat on Titan, nothing could be cooler than that. Plus I believe we would have learned a lot about a kind of place we have never been before. I am sure InSIGHT will provide good data, it will not be nearly as novel as TiME. I guess they made the safe choice.

64spokes: 08/22/2012 11:43 CDT

"chance alignments" Shouldn't that be 'rare' alignments? I mean, they are quite predictable :-)

Leonidas: 08/22/2012 12:37 CDT

What a stunning photo! My jaw open wide when the webpage loaded and I saw Saturn in all its glory! I'm too very sad that a boat probe on Titan won't be sent. How cool would be to float on an extraterrestrial ocean, and see pictures of it! But that doesn't mean that I'm not happy with the InSight seletion! The Mars program really needed it cause it hang on a thread! Yet, it's so sad that planetary exploration has to advance so slowly. Anyway, thank you Emily for this stunning photo!

Michael: 08/22/2012 01:27 CDT

I really, really hope the selection of InSight over time didn't have anything to do with internal NASA politics. But I'm very skeptical, especially given Administrator Bolden's comments relating the choosing of InSight to the Curiosity hype and future human Mars missions. And there's the fact that there are many more Mars scientists than outer planets scientists, as well as the fact that the JPL will run the InSight mission...and all those great Curiosity EDL people need to maintain their Mars landing expertise, right? I just hope NASA notices the disappointment people are feeling regarding the axing of TIME. Pretty much every article on InSight is dominated by comments lamenting that TIME wasn't selected, especially since this was the only chance to do it on a Discovery level budget.

Leonidas: 08/22/2012 05:17 CDT

It's a tragedy of the highest kind, that NASA has to choose one low-cost Discovery mission over another one, or worse, two. That speaks a lot about the state this country is in. I'm really happy that the JPL team that landed Curiosity won't be trashed, cause that would be a disaster, but this whole thing really feels like shooting one of your kids just so you'll feed the other. It's just utterly unacceptable! Man, how awesome would have been seeing the lakes of Titan!!

Leonidas: 08/22/2012 05:19 CDT

What the hell happened to the "we'll go because it's there!" mentality?

Ranjones: 08/23/2012 11:01 CDT

Let's talk some rich guys into funding some outer planets expeditions themselves. :-)

Steve Williams: 08/23/2012 03:42 CDT

Although it totally sucks that we have to choose, I can see extra benefit to keeping a high cadence of activity to a single target vs. spreading ourselves thin. There seems to be a lot of experience and wisdom (and in situ infrastructure!) on the engineering side of getting to Mars nowadays, and I see value in feeding, preserving, and building on that. Ultimately, though, NASA (and space science/technology in general) is woefully underfunded given what it gets us.

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