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Ideas That Defy: Sailing on an Alien Sea

Posted on Fri, September 28, 2018
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Before the twentieth century, the idea that humans could fly seemed impossible. For a while, it was understood that “you may as well try and fly” meant that something just could not be done. The Wright brothers proved that wrong and defied common understanding of what was possible.

We all have ideas that defy in our back pocket. These are ideas that we would love to see humans achieve, if only we could figure out how to solve the problem, or find the resources. They make us say “Wouldn’t it be amazing if…”

If this Museum has taught us anything, it is that limitations will not and cannot stop innovation.

My personal idea that defies, the thing I dream of humans achieving, is sailing on an alien sea. 

Let me explain. I love Saturn’s moon Titan. It is an amazing moon. In fact, it’s the only moon in our solar system with a substantial atmosphere. The first inkling of this idea came in 2006 when the Cassini spacecraft flew across the north pole of Titan. The images Cassini took indicated that there are lakes on Titan. Not water lakes, but liquid methane and ethane. (It’s so cold on Titan that those are the only liquids that can exist on it.) This moon, 746 million miles away, is the only place, other than Earth, that we know of open expanses of liquid. And like all good explorers discovering a distant sea, we wanted to sail on it.

Titan Lake

NASA concept of the methane lakes on Titan, Saturn's largest moon. 

At the time, people were saying that exploring the outer solar system was too hard to accomplish without spending a lot of money. So my team and I put together a proposal to send a mission to Titan. We made it through to the final round, but ultimately lost to another team. Although we didn’t make it to Titan to sail on its alien sea, at the end of our proposal process, there was no one left to say our Titan Mare Explorer was impossible.

So my personal idea that defies hasn’t been achieved yet. And there are obstacles the next team to tackle the challenge will have to overcome. But if this Museum has taught us anything, it is that limitations will not and cannot stop innovation.

After all, the achievements we celebrate were once thought impossible. And now they’re displayed for all to see, to inspire the next generation of innovators and explorers.

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