60-Second Space

Space Boat Could See Sea Near Saturn

Among projects under consideration by NASA is one that would send a boat to the hydrocarbon sea on Saturn's moon Titan to check out its composition and chemistry. John Matson reports.

Titan, Saturn's largest moon, has numerous lakes and seas. But they're not bodies of water—Titan's reservoirs are full of liquid hydrocarbons such as methane. NASA is now considering building a boat to sail the seas of Titan. The space agency recently awarded a team of scientists $3 million to develop the idea.

The interplanetary boat, known as the Titan Mare Explorer, is in competition with two other mission concepts: a geophysical monitoring station for Mars and a lander that would hop across the surface of a comet. As soon as next year, NASA will greenlight one of those proposals for a 2016 launch. The winning mission gets up to $425 million—meaning that NASA could float a boat on another world for less than it costs to build some of the ocean liners now cruising the Caribbean.

NASA's boat would parachute into one of Titan's hydrocarbon seas to check out its composition. It would also look for the kind of carbon-based chemistry that spurred life on Earth. Some scientists have even speculated that Titan could already be home to methane-dwelling microbes. That's a remote possibility, but if life does exist on Titan, let's hope the high seas there are still pirate-free.

—John Matson

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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