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Obligatory NASA Post
January 13, 2005 10:37 PM   Subscribe

European Space Agency's Huygens Probe Ready for Spectacular Mission to Titan
Mission managers for the European Space Agency's Huygens probe said the spacecraft is on course for its descent to Saturn's mysterious moon Titan on Friday, Jan. 14. The probe, which detached from NASA's Cassini orbiter last month, will be the first object to explore on-site the unique environment of Titan, whose chemistry is thought to be very similar to that of early Earth, before life formed. The data gathered during the probe's 2 1/2 hour descent through Titan's atmosphere will be transmitted from the probe to the Cassini orbiter and then back to Earth.
Make sure to stay tuned in this morning for updates.
posted by garethspor (69 comments total)

 
John Varley unavailable for comment.

But seriously, I work on the Swift spacecraft, and I wish nothing but the best for both the Cassini and Huygens operations teams. I'm sure we'll be seeing some great photo ops from their mission operations room.
posted by Fat Guy at 11:41 PM on January 13, 2005


Clearly all these worlds are ours. Except Europa. We should attempt no landings, there.
posted by shmegegge at 11:44 PM on January 13, 2005


Nasa TV should have cameras in the control room during the data reception faze which is about 10 am Eastern. (Here are some mirrors of the feed)

And check out #space on irc.freenode.net; its a good source of up to date information. I watched the mars rover landing through irc+nasa tv , it was quite an experience.
posted by Merik at 11:46 PM on January 13, 2005


Here's a countdown thingy.
posted by dhruva at 11:46 PM on January 13, 2005


I always love space news. Thanks for this, garethspor.

I'm also really excited about July 4th of this year, when that rocket we sent out today is going to interact with that comet.
posted by interrobang at 11:48 PM on January 13, 2005


heres the correct link for the irc channel:

#space on irc.freenode.net

posted by Merik at 11:51 PM on January 13, 2005


I am so friggin' excited to see pictures and hear friggin' sound from across the solar system. I know it's all out of everyone's hands now, but PLEASE WORK PLEASE WORK PLEASE WORK.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:29 AM on January 14, 2005


exciting stuff. pity that space exploration takes a back seat to space occupation. when was the last time the international space station accomplished ANYTHING of scientific note. NASA alone anually spends 25 billion US on the ISS much of which is wasted on stupid high school science projects.

unmanned probes is where this money should be spent and hopefully a successful landing on titan will drive this point home.

*PLEASE WORK PLEASE WORK PLEASE WORK.*
posted by three blind mice at 1:10 AM on January 14, 2005


ESA has a little flashapp detailing the stages of descent on its homepage.
posted by CKZ at 1:27 AM on January 14, 2005


unmanned probes is where this money should be spent and hopefully a successful landing on titan will drive this point home.

Thanks three blind mice for trotting out the "manned versus unmanned" dead horse.

NASA sends humans into space because that is what the American public wants.
posted by Fat Guy at 1:32 AM on January 14, 2005


...because everyone knows a spaceship without a penis is not gonna get the alien babe...
posted by nightchrome at 2:00 AM on January 14, 2005


Some sort of signal has been received.... ohboy ohboy it's alive....
posted by pjern at 2:48 AM on January 14, 2005


Carrier signal.

I've been playing with the nick Huygen_Fails on european Unreal Tournament 2004 servers, but in all seriousness I hope this works. I want to see some pictures looking out over a hydrocarbon lake with giant icy mountains in the background, with the orangish haze of an atmosphere as a backdrop for it all.
posted by pemdasi at 2:55 AM on January 14, 2005


NASA sends humans into space because that is what the American public wants.

thanks fat guy. i guess this means the issue is settled. the total cost of the huygens probe is 2.4% of what NASA spends every year on the ISS. the fact is that the "scientists" at NASA could do with a lot more with a lot less of the public's money if they focused on science instead of public relations. pity NASA seems to employ only politicians who are more concerned with how deeply they can reach into the public's pockets instead of engineers concerned with the pursuit of science.

"The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia, USA, a part of the global network of radio telescopes involved in tracking the Huygens Titan probe, has detected the probe's 'carrier' (tone) signal.

The detection occurred between 11:20 and 11:25 CET, shortly after the probe began its parachute descent through Titan's atmosphere. The extremely feeble signal was first picked up by the Radio Science Receiver supplied by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This signal is an important indication that the Huygens probe is 'alive'. However, it does not contain yet any substance; the latter is expected to come a few hours later via the Cassini spacecraft."

Yeah! It's ALIVE. At least we know the ESA didn't have a problem converting meters to feet and inches. I can't wait to see the first photographs.
posted by three blind mice at 4:41 AM on January 14, 2005


I hate it when scientists say "extremely feeble", it always sounds like "weak heartbeat".

Glad to see I'm not alone in grabbing the seat of my wheelie chair and bouncing around the office.

Huygens: PLEASE WORK PLEASE WORK PLEASE WORK.
posted by NinjaPirate at 4:50 AM on January 14, 2005


I hate it when scientists say "extremely feeble", it always sounds like "weak heartbeat".

in this case, it's precisely what they mean. until the probe's uplink is relayed by cassini, the patient remains in guarded condition, but it is a very, very positive sign of health!

PLEASE WORK PLEASE WORK PLEASE WORK.
posted by three blind mice at 4:56 AM on January 14, 2005


It's my understanding that Cassini won't be broadcasting the signal until it's in line-of-sight with Earth, so the VLA's around the world are training their "ears" on Huygens. While they can't get enough detail to recieve telemetry data, the mere fact that they hear any transmission would indicate that Huygens has at the very least deployed its first parachute (that's when it starts sending). That's a good sign. Essentially they're listening to a battery-powered probe the size of a VW that's 67 light-minutes away, which is just incredible. My fingers are still crossed.

OK, place bets now on whether it lands in liquid or solid.

I say solid (I hope solid, it means the batteries will last longer, which means more data.)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:19 AM on January 14, 2005


Solid or liquid.. hmm, my bet is on Other.
posted by TwelveTwo at 5:29 AM on January 14, 2005


I say solid (I hope solid, it means the batteries will last longer, which means more data.)

Uh... it'll be travelling at 5-6 metres/second - i.e. 18 or so km/h (11mph).
*bump*
Must have some pretty good cushioning...
posted by Chunder at 5:31 AM on January 14, 2005


Liquid could be interesting. I'm assuming it's designed to float. But why would it draw more power, C_D?

*up late toggling between NASA TV, ESA and NASA/JPL sites.*

Ooh, NASA TV is back live with the ESA feed. There's a bunch of grinning nerds there!
posted by loquacious at 5:37 AM on January 14, 2005


I'm hoping someone'll catch it.
posted by NinjaPirate at 5:39 AM on January 14, 2005


I don't know though, I mean, does Titan even have stunt pilots?
posted by NinjaPirate at 5:42 AM on January 14, 2005


I'm betting liquid.

The space station isn't a bust, in that it's prompting cooperation and it's a first step towards a permanent human presence in space. the real problem is the complete reliance on the space shuttle to build it which means the real problem is the (wait for it) space shuttle AS IT WAS BUILT. from what I recall, the shuttle was supposed to be built better but congress cut the budget.

I think nasa's budget should at least be doubled (that would make it about 30 billion, i think) and a lot of that should be spent on these unmanned projects. but nasa shouldn't cut back on manned projects either. mankind is going into space, the moon, mars and beyond. the only question is who will lead us there.

but no
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:52 AM on January 14, 2005


But why would it draw more power, C_D?

Because -241 C is very, very cold. If it lands in liquid methane, the cold will drain the batteries faster. It's not designed to last very long, anyway, and regardless, the Cassini orbiter will be out of range after 30 minutes. But that's 30 whole minutes of potential extra data.

1.2 billion km from Earth and going strong...
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:53 AM on January 14, 2005


Huygens has landed, and telescopes in Green Bank, WVA and elsewhere were able to detect its carrier signal during the descent. Evidently the probe was still transmitting well after the expected loss of signal due to battery drain. Live updates from the dedicated team at Space.com are here.
posted by killdevil at 5:54 AM on January 14, 2005


I go to coffee with a guy who wrote on-board software for Huygens. I've been joking with him that if his software fails, they'll all be pinning the blame for the failure of the mission on him.

Now just off to see if PPARC's webcast has started.
posted by salmacis at 5:55 AM on January 14, 2005


Based on the relatively flat but nonreflective surface detected by Cassini, I'm going with the "slushy" surface theory.

Landed, says Space.com! 9:10 a.m. EST: “The probe is still alive and sending a signal,” said Claudio Solazzo, ESA Huygens Mission operations manager. Now that Huygens is apparently on Titan, researchers hope a pair of electronic levels will register any movement of the probe. If it landed on a hydrocarbon lake, the levels would detect any bobbing motion, researchers have said.
posted by brownpau at 6:17 AM on January 14, 2005


Check that: -260 F.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:18 AM on January 14, 2005


On not previewing: We get signal! WHAT YOU SAY!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:21 AM on January 14, 2005


How to pronounce Huygens
posted by Pretty_Generic at 6:22 AM on January 14, 2005


8:35 a.m. EST: Huygens mission controllers report that the probe landed somewhere between 1:45 p.m. and 1:46 p.m. local time in Darmstadt, Germany (CET)

I reckon it was a hard landing, unless it hit the Rhine
posted by gravelshoes at 6:34 AM on January 14, 2005


By the way, Celestia tells me that Cassini is 8.07 au from Earth, which translates to about 66 light minutes. That's how long the signal takes to get from there to here.

If you get the latest version of Celestia (not updated on OS X, unfortunately), it'll have orbital and texture info for Cassini and Heowgens (as per P_G's pronunciation), and you can actually follow them through space. (The Huygens data is a bit off, though; it's not shown hitting Titan, just getting really close and then flying back off into space.)
posted by brownpau at 6:35 AM on January 14, 2005


For those without Celestia, the ESA's flash site shows the location of Cassini, Huygens, Saturn and all its moons. You can look at its current position, or fast-forward to where Cassini will be in a couple of years (it will make several moon fly-bys).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:40 AM on January 14, 2005


great link pretty_generic.

8:00 a.m. EST: The first Huygens news briefing post-Titan descent has concluded.

ESA mission managers said Huygens' carrier signal, the only signal researchers expected to detect from Earth, has also been detected by the Parkes radio telescope in Australia. The signal has been blaring strong for two hours now, researchers said.


blaring strong for two hours! by now cassini's memory banks must be loaded with lots of information. hopefully instead of a silly stories about the food supply on the ISS, and how the "astronauts" celebrated christmas, NASA will treat us with something utterly fantastic.
posted by three blind mice at 6:47 AM on January 14, 2005


As an aside, "joule" should actually be pronounced the same as "jowl". Unless you want people to understand what you're talking about, of course.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 6:56 AM on January 14, 2005


Updates from Space.com: "10:15 a.m. EST: Huygens is still pounding out a signal to the surprise of ESA engineers, but any science data it is currently transmitting is falling on deaf ears.

The Cassini orbiter, Huygens' only connection to Earth, has turned away from the probe and is preparing to relay the probe's data home, mission controllers said.

“The probe has been living for more than five hours,” said Huygens mission manager Jean-Pierre Lebreton. “But we knew at a certain time Cassini would have to stop recording.”
posted by killdevil at 7:22 AM on January 14, 2005


Space.Com: 10:30 a.m. EST: Applause broke out briefly at ESA's ESOC spacecraft operations center in Darmstadt, Germany. Apparently, mission controllers have detected the first data from Cassini's Huygens receivers, spacecraft engineers said.

That doesn't mean that any Huygens science has arrived, just that the receivers aboard Cassini designed to record that data were functioning at the start of the descent, they added.
posted by unreason at 7:33 AM on January 14, 2005


There is much excitement in the kyrademon household today. Incidentally, my girlfriend was on the team that took these lovely pictures of Titan.

(And she's hot, too.)

(OK, I'm done.)
posted by kyrademon at 7:40 AM on January 14, 2005


shmegegge-
There's already a mission in the works to put a lander on Europa.
posted by fossil_human at 7:52 AM on January 14, 2005


11:19 a.m. EST: Shouts and applause erupted from Huygens mission control, and presumably some data from the probe has apparently arrived.

"We have it? We have it!," said one mission team member before the shouts.

Stand by for confirmation.
posted by grateful at 8:30 AM on January 14, 2005


Confirmed!
posted by gubo at 8:38 AM on January 14, 2005


So when are they going to release the audio recordings and the photographs?
posted by cmonkey at 8:45 AM on January 14, 2005


When all the data is received. On every board talking about this people are demanding pictures. You're too used to your broadband connection. Space communication doesnt work that way, yet.
posted by yupislyr at 8:47 AM on January 14, 2005


Here's a page linking to test images from the Descent Imager taken over Arizona. I'm looking forward to something like this from Titan ...
posted by gubo at 8:50 AM on January 14, 2005


Pretty_Generic: apparently James Prescott Joule and his family actually pronounced his name "jool" (rhymes with pool, cool).
posted by gubo at 9:02 AM on January 14, 2005


gubo: I read different
posted by Pretty_Generic at 9:28 AM on January 14, 2005


Pictures will be up at 1:45 EST.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:52 AM on January 14, 2005


ohm my, how re-volt-ing, I don't know watt I'm talking about ... sorry p_g, I stand corrected.
posted by gubo at 10:03 AM on January 14, 2005


NASA TV keeps showing Bush delivering an address, and it's making my monitor break out in hives.

*waits impatiently for updates*

*is generally in a state of tech-awe*
posted by jokeefe at 10:16 AM on January 14, 2005


Humanity, fuck yeah!
posted by basicchannel at 10:22 AM on January 14, 2005


titan smells like ass
posted by zeoslap at 10:49 AM on January 14, 2005


could they not just light a match to keep huygens warm? should would be toasty when all that methane explodes (or can't you light liquid methane)
posted by zeoslap at 10:50 AM on January 14, 2005


titan smells like ass

Typical MeFi anthropocentrism.
Ass smells like Titan.
posted by felix betachat at 10:52 AM on January 14, 2005


> titan smells like ass

Titan to probe: pull my finger.
posted by NewBornHippy at 11:03 AM on January 14, 2005


If only the successes got as much media time as the failures. That's because, in general, the successes are met by the masses collective yawns.

I for one shall raise a glass to the project's success.
posted by spock at 11:04 AM on January 14, 2005


"We are the first visitors to Titan and the scientific data we are collecting now shall unveil the secrets of this new world," said Jean-Jacques Dordain, director general for ESA, in Darmstadt, Germany.

How presumptuous.
posted by NewBornHippy at 11:05 AM on January 14, 2005


What a waste of money. Imagine how many Iraqis we could have killed with all the money we spent on this entire mission.
posted by drstrangelove at 11:19 AM on January 14, 2005


could they not just light a match to keep huygens warm? should would be toasty when all that methane explodes (or can't you light liquid methane)

Well, you could if there were enough oxygen (which there probably isn't).
posted by dirigibleman at 11:37 AM on January 14, 2005


Images are clearly being held up as an ESA flunky photoshops out lgm.
posted by felix betachat at 11:41 AM on January 14, 2005


First pic down from the surface! Oh, my god. It's full of... rocks.
posted by steef at 12:35 PM on January 14, 2005


First image from Titan
posted by Fred Mars at 12:38 PM on January 14, 2005


Imagine how many Iraqis we could have killed with all the money we spent on this entire mission

I hate to participate in such an obvious derail, but I just had to know... apparently the US investment in this endeavor (at today's exchange rates) cost as much as about 3 weeks of occupying Iraq. For those of you keeping score.

posted by ulotrichous at 1:22 PM on January 14, 2005


The notion that some ordinary people--with thoughts and talents and shortcomings that all people have--managed to shoot something halfway across the solar system to land softly enough on one of the moons of Saturn to return snapshots . . . well, that's pretty damn astonishing.
posted by vraxoin at 1:45 PM on January 14, 2005


to return snapshots . . .

...within hours, no less.
posted by felix betachat at 2:04 PM on January 14, 2005


could they not just light a match to keep huygens warm? should would be toasty when all that methane explodes (or can't you light liquid methane)

There's very little oxygen on Titan, so the chance that the moon would burst into flames is pretty much zero.
posted by borkingchikapa at 2:27 PM on January 14, 2005


oops, someone beat me.
posted by borkingchikapa at 2:28 PM on January 14, 2005


to return snapshots . . .

...within hours, no less.

And then within the next few hours share them with millions of people over the internet. Fantastic.
posted by jokeefe at 2:30 PM on January 14, 2005


C_D: Re: Battery life. Thanks. I don't know why I couldn't figure that out. I guess they'd refrain from using a nuclear battery on the lander for good reason.

Now awaiting processed images and analysis! Go ESA!

(Also, it's great watching ESA and NASA folks on NASA TV geeking out in a total hodgepodge of languages, switching between them as it suits them.)
posted by loquacious at 2:42 PM on January 14, 2005


I put together a small video (SWF) of the probe's descent. It's not perfect (you'll have to wait for JPL/ESA to get it right) but for now it gives a pretty good sense of the fall. The image is composed of three camera shots. The top is a horizontally mounted camera.

http://anthony.liekens.net/huygens_descent.swf
(Thanks for the hosting, Anthony).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:14 PM on January 14, 2005


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