On Thursday, NASA announced the target of its next expedition probe into the corners of our Solar System: Titan, Saturn's largest moon and one of the most intriguing places in the hunt for extraterrestrial life.
Titan was last explored by the Cassini-Huygens mission.
The drone is slated to launch in 2026 and arrive at Titan in 2034. The mission aims to "investigate organic chemistry, evaluate habitability and search for chemical signatures of past or even present life", he added.
The mission - called Dragonfly - received a coveted funding slot from NASA's New Frontiers program, which funds ambitious missions to explore objects in our Solar System. "We know this area quite well, there's a lot of data from different instruments in this region", she said.
Dragonfly could conceivably find evidence of Titan life, if the moon is indeed inhabited. Unlike Earth, Titan has clouds and rain of methane.
"Flying on Titan is actually easier than flying on Earth ... so it's the best way to travel, and it's the best way to go long distances", Turtle said during a NASA webcast.
An artist's conception shows the Dragonfly probe on the dunes of Titan. "It's remarkable to think of this rotorcraft flying miles and miles across the organic sand dunes of Saturn's largest moon, exploring the processes that shape this extraordinary environment". The probe will then spend at least 2.5 years cruising around the 3,200-mile-wide (5,150 kilometers) moon, making two dozen flights that cover a total of about 110 miles (180 km).
Titan is an analog to the very early Earth, and can provide clues to how life may have arisen on our planet. It will first land at the equatorial Shangri-La dune fields, which are terrestrially similar to the linear dunes in Namibia in southern Africa and offer a diverse sampling location. It's believed that liquid water and complex organic materials including hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen - the building blocks of life - may have existed together for tens of thousands of years. Because it is so far from the Sun, its surface temperature is around -290 degrees Fahrenheit (-179 degrees Celsius). By the time its baseline mission is complete, the drone will have covered 108 miles, almost double the distance traveled by all Mars rovers combined.
"Dragonfly is a bold, game-changing way to explore the solar system", said Ralph Semmel, the director of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which was selected by NASA to lead the mission.
Only three other missions have been funded through the New Frontiers program.