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The space boat that could explore Saturn's moon
Forget NASA's Curiosity. Now engineers are dreaming of a floating rover that would cruise around Titan — on land and sea
This image of a methane lake on Titan was captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft.
This image of a methane lake on Titan was captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft.
NASA/JPL/USGS
M

ars may grab all the headlines, but the Red Planet isn't the only Earth-like body in our solar system. Saturn's moon Titan, for instance, has long piqued the interest of scientists because its surface is covered in seas, lakes, and rivers — which are strangely filled with liquid methane. Now, a group of engineers have submitted their plans for a new kind of rover — a floating space boat to rival NASA's Curiosity. Here's what you should know:

Why Titan?
Although the moon has a number of obvious differences from Earth (its surface temperature is a frigid -289 degrees Fahrenheit, among other things), it's still an "enticing target for human exploration" because its bountiful liquids and unique atmosphere "could actually support life," says Megan Garber at The Atlantic. In recent years, both NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have beamed back images of the moon's "planet-like body," which may even have a "subsurface ocean." 

How would the boat work?
The Titan Lake In-situ Sampling Propelled Explorer, or TALISE, would succeed the ESA's Huygens probe, which touched down on Titan in 2005 after a seven-year journey. After landing, TALISE will "explore and collect data from the weird liquid methane makeup of the lakes" found on the moon's surface, says Christopher MacManus at CNET. SENER, a private aerospace company, is working in collaboration with Spain's Centro de Astrobiologia to develop a propulsion system that would allow TALISE to navigate on both land and sea, using a combination of wheels and paddles.  

How long would the boat be on Titan?
At the European Planetary Science Congress in Madrid last week, presenters suggested that after splash landing in Ligeia Mare, Titan's largest lake, the boat would beam back data for anywhere between six months and a year. (In contrast, the Huygens probe was only able to transmit information for 90 minutes before shutting down.)

When is this all expected to happen?
"The idea, of course, is just that," says The Atlantic's Garber. "If realized, though... the space boat would allow humans the most intimate contact we've ever had with a distant moon. A moon that is, in its way, enticingly similar to our Earth." 

Sources: The Atlantic, CNET, PC Mag, Slashgear

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