Western University is helping humanity get one step closer to Saturn thanks to a university professor's contribution.

NASA has selected a space-exploring plan co-led by Western University and John Hopkins University.

Catherine Neish, an earth sciences professor at Western, contributed to the proposed mission "Dragonfly": a rover-craft that might be approved to explore the possibility of biochemical life on Saturn’s moon Titan.  

“The rover-craft is like a drone flying around a neighbourhood but on a much bigger scale,” Neish explained.

NASA has a mission every five years where they put out a call for proposals in space missions ranging in different categories. In December 2017, the Dragonfly project was selected as one of the two projects selected for further study.

Both teams have been given funds from NASA to develop additional studies; they have until December to complete them. A decision will be made in mid-2019 regarding which out of these two missions will take flight.

“When I was a PhD student intrigued by the pre-biochemistry of Titan, I predicted that there should be products of life on it,” Neish commented. “Parts, molecules that make up life. So, at the end of my thesis I concluded that we should go to Titan and see if we can detect these molecules.”

It will hopefully be an inspiring venture for students — research can translate to real-world impact.

“I didn’t think I would have any chance to test my thesis, so this chance to test the experimental work I did in my PhD is very exciting,” Neish said.