August 28, 2020
Elizabeth "Zibi" Turtle appeared on screen and her words cut through the silence evocatively.
"Picture a world with a variety of landforms," Turtle began. "It has a dense atmosphere within which rains sweep across its surface. It has mountains and plains; rivers, lakes and seas; sand dunes, and some impact craters.
"Sounds like Earth, right?
"This, is Titan."
On June 25, Turtle delivered a TED talk on Titan, Saturn's largest moon, and Dragonfly, a rotorcraft lander mission being built by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. Over seven minutes, the APL planetary scientist described this mysterious ocean world and the daring voyage of Dragonfly — the newest mission in NASA's New Frontiers program — set to launch in 2027 and reach Titan in 2034.
For TED2020's "Uncharted" program, Turtle and Dragonfly were a perfect match.
"Dragonfly is a bold, game-changing mission to explore the solar system," said Jason Kalirai, the mission area executive for civil space at APL. "This mission is a visionary combination of creativity and scientific and technical expertise that will help us understand an exotic world that shares many similarities to our own planet. We're honored to have Zibi as our ambassador in telling Dragonfly's story, and leading the Dragonfly team in this unprecedented exploration. It is no doubt uncharted territory."
Turtle closed her talk by hitting on the magnitude of the mission:
"In 1994 Carl Sagan wrote 'On Titan, the molecules that have been raining down like manna from heaven for the last 4 billion years might still be there, largely unaltered, deep frozen, awaiting the chemists from Earth.'
"We are those chemists. Dragonfly is a search for greater understanding — not just of Titan and the mysteries of our solar system, but of our own origins."
TED2020 was a virtual experience because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Until now, the talk was only accessible to TED2020 attendees.
For more on Turtle, principal investigator of the Dragonfly mission and third female NASA planetary mission PI in history, visit the Johns Hopkins APL and NASA Solar System websites.