NASA will fund a revolutionary mission to fly through Titan’s atmosphere

On Thursday, NASA announced its next medium-class mission to explore the Solar System—a lander named Dragonfly that will fly like a drone over the surface of Titan, Saturn’s largest Moon. Titan has a fascinating environment, with a hydrocarbon atmosphere much thicker than Earth’s atmosphere. NASA intends to spend a couple of years exploring its complex chemistry.

NASA scientists were deciding between this Titan explorer and another mission that would have flown to a comet named 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The comet had been previously visited by Europe’s Rosetta spacecraft, which returned a sample of cometary material to Earth.

Of the two missions, the Titan explorer—with an unprecedented design that would fly a vehicle the size of a larger Mars rover over the moon—carried the higher risk. But, half a century after the Apollo lunar landings, NASA decided to go boldly. “A great nation does great things,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.

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