In 1983, NASA contractor Science Applications, Inc. proposed a half-dozen missions to Saturn's mysterious moon Titan. Space historian and Beyond Apollo blogger David S. F. Portree describes the blimps, buoys, and air-launched sounding rockets of SAI's unflown Titan exploration program.
Saturnian moons Titan (background) and Dione. Image: NASA.
The planet Saturn needs a little more than 29 years to circle the Sun once. At its mean orbital distance, 1.43 billion kilometers from our star’s warming fires, it receives about 1% as much solar energy as does Earth. The planet was known to ancient peoples, but its most distinctive feature – its bright and complex ring system – remained undiscovered until the invention of the telescope.
Galileo Galilei, famous for his telescopic discovery of Jupiter’s four largest moons, spotted Saturn’s rings in 1609-1610. Though the most advanced in the world at the time, his telescope was too crude to allow him to determine their nature. A half-century later, Christian Huygens announced that the “appendages” Galileo had glimpsed were in fact a ring that encircled the planet without touching it. Huygens also discovered Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, and determined that it circles the planet in about 16 days.
Little new was learned ...