It was January 14, 2004, and I was doing final edits on Intrepid Force: Invasion when the Huygens module dropped through the cold, cloudy atmosphere of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. On my way home from Orlando, I bought a newspaper and pulled over at a donut shop in Panama City to read about it. Since part of my novel was set on Titan, I wondered how close my fictional imaginings of the cold moon had come to the real thing. If I was too far off, I’d have to do some rewrites. Riding piggyback on the Cassini space probe, the Huygens lander had taken six years to get from Earth to Saturn. The Intrepid Force had made the trip in only two months. It’s amazing how fast you can move when a malevolent Alien-Antichrist-A.I. is threatening to destroy your planet.
The idea of sending Intrepid Force to Titan is something I came up with when I was in my teens. I’d been fascinated with Titan since I found out it was a real place. I first read about it in third grade in a Legion of Superheroes comic book. Titan was supposed to be the home of the beautiful, telepathic Saturn Girl. (The image is from Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes #202. I’ll attach a link to the image if anybody wants to read that classic adventure. It was my first Legion comic, and I’m still a fan.) It wasn’t until eighth grade science class that I learned that Saturn really did have a moon called Titan, that it was as big as a small planet, and that it had an atmosphere.
When I wrote the scenes in Intrepid Force: Invasion, scientists had theorized that Titan could have seas of liquid methane, so I wrote about those hydrocarbon lakes. When I finally read that newspaper article in Panama City that January 15, nothing I saw really changed anything in the story, so I didn’t have to do any rewrites.
One interesting aspect of the Huygens probe’s mission was that the probe only lasted for 90 minutes on Titan’s frozen surface, and it took 80 minutes for its radio signal (traveling the same speed as light, if that gives you any indication of the distance) to get back to earth. By the time mission control received the probe’s signal, the probe itself only had about ten minutes of life left. After a six-year ride to Titan, it stopped functioning after only 90 minutes. The Cassini probe lasted a lot longer. (I added a link to a video about the landing. Click on the picture.(
After fourteen years of circling Saturn and sending back pictures of its glorious rings and its sixty-something moons, the Cassini probe made its final, fatal plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere on September 15, 2017. It’s amazing to think that objects that were touched by human hands are sitting on the surface of Titan or spinning through Saturn’s cloudy atmosphere.