Saturn or Bust!

Today Huygens landed on Saturn!!

Excerpt: DARMSTADT, Germany - A European space probe landed safely on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan on Friday, a space official said, buoying hopes the mission would produce data that could shed light on the origins of life on Earth.

Officials were jubilant as early signals showed the probe powering up for entry, then beginning the 2 1/2-hour parachute descent during which it was to gather information that could shed light on how life arose on Earth.

Mission controllers were confident the Huygens probe made a soft landing because it was still transmitting steadily long after it should have landed, said David Southwood, the European Space Agency's science director.

"We know that it has landed based on the laws of gravity," Southwood said. "It simply cannot still be flying. It's got to be on a solid surface, and it must be soft."

Southwood said the early signal showed little more than that Huygens was still alive and the mission wouldn't be a success until a full set of data could be sent back via the Cassini mother ship orbiting Saturn.

"We still can't fully celebrate — we need to wait for the data to come from Cassini, but we have enormous faith in this mission," Southwood said.

I was talking with a friend the other day about some memorable moments in the space program. As someone who was born (1963 - yes, I'm that old or young depending on your point of view!) during the moon race, the space program has been something I have followed. Because of the historic nature of the first moon landing and my young age, I can't remember if I saw it live or I'm confusing it with all the documentries I've seen about that landing!

Does anyone remember the Soyuz-Apollo flight? That was a big deal then. Now, we share the International Space Station with the Russians and nobody really gives it much thought.

I remember the first Space Shuttle launch and getting up early in the West Coast to follow the countdown in Florida. Of course, who could ever forget the Challenger? I heard the news driving to UCLA. And more recently, the loss of Columbia on approach to landing. I listened to the radio reports as I did my Saturday morning jog. For those who might not remember, Columbia was the first Shuttle to fly.

I remember coming home from school to follow the Viking Mars landings. That was huge! And more recently, there was the little Pathfinder a few years back and then the most recent two rovers. I remember listening to the live updates on the AM radio from JPL as the rover came in for the landing and how excited I was to hear it survived. Earlier, the Beagle, a European Mars lander didn't survive the landing and was never heard from again.

Here's hoping for some interesting data from Saturn!