Page 76 - The Montecito Journal Magazine Winter Spring 2008

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spr ing
The Second Golden Age
of Exploration
uring the first golden age of exploration,
heroic men did heroic deeds. Stanley may
have uttered the immortal “Dr Livingstone,
I presume.” Peary probably got near the
North Pole, and Amundsen certainly reached the South
Pole: the ends of the world had literally been reached.
This golden age arguably ended in the 1950s when Hil-
lary climbed Everest on foot. Not long afterwards, an
expedition reached the South Pole in oversized snowmo-
biles: machines were taking over.
Today we have completed the exploration of Earth and
have moved on to exploring our solar system. Machines
have taken the place of our advance scouts, each extraor-
dinary, radically different and tailored to its destination. There
is much to be learned from these explorations, information that
can expand our thinking about the very core of life on Earth. From
previous expeditions to Venus, for example, we discovered the concept
of the greenhouse effect; who knows what more there is to uncover? These
explorations are picking up speed as fast as taxpayers in the advanced world will
allow and the roots of some of this exploration are right here in Santa Barbara.
Most readers will be familiar with the Rovers exploring the surface of Mars since 2004
without realizing that a Santa Barbara County firm based in Goleta – Pacific Design Technologies
– designed and built its cooling systems. The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s “Phoenix” has been
searching for signs of life near the South Pole of Mars since May. Its unique solar panels were built locally
by Santa Barbara company ATK. And in the spring of this year, I built a structure to simulate the atmosphere
of outer space in an unused warehouse space near the Santa Barbara Airport.
Let me explain why.
Express any opinion about planetary exploration and you may soon get into an argument, but for me,
the most interesting destinations are Europa, a moon of Jupiter, and Titan, a moon of Saturn. The size
of these “mere moons” is appropriate to their locations at these giant planets. Both are larger than Earth’s
moon and the planet Mercury. Both have vast oceans of water. Because they are so far from the Sun, the
surface is frozen, but there is water underneath. Titan is one of some fifty moons of Saturn. In my opinion,
Titan is by far the most interesting because it has an atmosphere. I am somewhat biased, however, be-
cause as a scientific balloonist, I can only help explore destinations that have atmospheres.
Nothing was known about Titan until four years ago when the Cassini spacecraft, launched over ten years
ago, finally reached Saturn and orbited Titan, which proved to be an extraordinarily interesting place. It probably
has just as much to offer below the surface as Europa, while the atmosphere above the surface adds enormous
interest. The atmosphere makes Titan in many ways remarkably Earth-like. Both Earth and Titan have thick
A simulated look at
the type of craft Julian
Nott and his team hope
to construct for the
upcoming NASA Titan
probe, scheduled for
launch in 2018 and to
arrive in 2025; the balloon
is flying above a lake of
liquid natural gas that is
the size of Lake Superior
(Tibor/Balint 2007; source:
NASA Jet Propulsion
Laboratory and/or The
European Space Agency)
by Julian Nott