Professor Parker said that in order to guarantee that it kept getting money from Congress, NASA worked very hard to from the 1960s onwards to develop the story of its importance for the future.
“The cards at the National Space Centre are very poignant. Lots of people will be able to say exactly where they were when they saw Neil Armstrong land on the Moon. It became part of the narrative of your life.
“But the notions of progress which were common in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s are now no longer as universally accepted. I don’t think anyone believes that things only move forward for the better anymore.”
Dr Lewis Goodings said: “This research highlights the intersections between our personal experiences of the event and the particular version of the past that is given to us through the media and other sources.
Due to global warming, the glacial lake is also rapidly changing, ideal circumstances for a robot being taught to recognize shifts in a fluid environment.
The prototype robot has spent the last two years exploring its surroundings, determining the lake’s size and depth, measuring its pH, and observing all meteorological phenomena.
It’s not ready yet: The lander’s instruments are designed for a terrestrial environment, and the current version is far too heavy to be sent into space. But those evolutions will come, said Cabrol.
“Right now we’re at the same place we were 10 or 15 years ago, when we were starting to test Mars rovers in the desert,” she said.
Until now, extraplanetary robotic explorers have been micromanaged from Earth.
But communication between Earth and Titan would take hours each direction, so the robot must be built with some decision-making and problem-solving capacity. Also, since rain and other weather phenomena occur on Titan, an exploration robot would need to know when something unusual is happening so it can stop what it’s doing and pay attention.
To do this, the robot will have to become familiar with its “normal” environment, and detect when something abnormal happens. For example, if the robot floats near shore, it will be able to recognize that and begin taking photographs and a series of scientific measurements.
This scientific autonomy is an evolution that is likely to take hold in all future extraplanetary robots, not just those that go to Titan, Cabrol said.
“We’re not only building a robot, but a new generation of robots,” she said. “The new generation will not just be sitting around waiting for us to tell them what to do.”