September 15, 2017 | David F. Coppedge

Saturnians Are Safe from Cassini Germs

Cassini scientists crashed their spacecraft into Saturn today in order to protect possible life forms on Titan, Enceladus and other moons.

Cassini has just passed into the history books after a fiery plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere, having spent 20 years in space, 13 of those years in orbit around Saturn and its moons. Why end it this way? Most news reports echo what Nature says: “NASA is deliberately crashing the probe — now short on fuel — to avoid an accidental collision that could contaminate the planet’s moons, such as Titan, known for its Earth-like prebiotic chemistry, or Enceladus, home to a buried ocean.” Space.com more explicitly worries, “The agency doesn’t want to take the risk that Cassini would crash into Saturn’s moon Enceladus and contaminate that possible crucible of life with Earth germs.

Cassini scientists and engineers watch close-up images of Enceladus (inset) arrive on March 9, 2005. Photo by David Coppedge.

NASA really doesn’t have to worry about contaminating the Saturnians. There aren’t any. The belief that alien microbes “might” inhabit Titan or Enceladus is based on the hydrobioscopy fallacy: thinking that water means life. It also ignores the enormous probabilistic hurdle of organizing dead molecules into complex machines, then animating them with the mysterious property we call life (see the film Origin).

NASA also seems to forget that it’s too late. Titan has been contaminated for 12 years now, ever since the Huygens Probe landed with a thud on a methane-moistened, icy plain on January 14, 2005. Scientists seem to think, also, that burning up Cassini in Saturn’s atmosphere will sufficiently decontaminate its remains. Probably so, but who knows? Astrobiologists seem to regard life as hardy and persistent. Could they be absolutely sure that earth microbes surviving 20 years in space on Cassini would not hop off the craft and catch a cloud? Who knows that survivors wouldn’t love the feast of hydrogen and methane at Saturn and spread, infecting the whole planet? Maybe Jupiter, contaminated with the Galileo Probe and the 2003 plunge of Galileo into its clouds, is a living lab of Earth microbes by now. Mars could well be spreading our germs after numerous landings there. Earthlings are contaminating the whole solar system!

We jest, of course, but either life is simple to evolve, or it’s not. We don’t have any evidence of Saturnians. We do know, however, that earth life is comprised of high degrees of complex specified information. Until and unless evidence of alien life arrives, astrobiology is a fact-free endeavor. There’s no “bio” in it. Take that out of the word, and it reduces to a classic case of pseudoscience.

The science of Cassini, however, will live on without the craft. Its legacy is secure. See the following news reports about Cassini’s Grand Finale:

  • The big questions about Saturn that doomed Cassini mission may yet answer (Nature)
  • Wild! Cassini Probe Spots Weird Waves in Saturn’s Rings (Space.com)
  • After Cassini: Pondering the Saturn Mission’s Legacy (Astrobiology Magazine)
  • Cassini’s 13 Greatest Discoveries During Its 13 Years at Saturn (Space.com)
  • Cassini Spacecraft Photos Reveal the Secrets of Saturn’s Strangest Moons (Space.com)
  • Cassini’s 10 best pictures from its 13-year voyage around Saturn (New Scientist)

New Scientist pointed out an often-forgotten point about space exploration. The most important factor is human beings. Without human minds exercising intelligent design, there would be no space exploration. There would be no appreciation of the pictures, no struggles to interpret the data. There would be no communications with a craft over a billion miles away. Cassini won’t cry on its way down, but humans will. Joelle Renstrom writes, “Tears for Cassini: why it’s OK to well up over a lump of metal.” The Washington Post focused on the emotions of Cassini team members upon loss of their beloved ship. “She’s us,” said [Jo] Pitesky, who has worked on Cassini’s operations team since 2001. “We can’t go there ourselves, so we build a spacecraft and load it up with instruments, and then we put on our hopes and desires and we send them there.”

Our minds are out there at Saturn contemplating our doomed craft. We are the Saturnians. We must not contaminate ourselves, mentally, morally, or logically.

NASA and ESA teams await signals from the Huygens Probe (inset), January 14, 2005. Photo by David Coppedge, who worked on the Cassini team for 14 years.

 

 

Leave a Reply