Since Titan has high air pressure, but low gravity, could settlers there wear wings or other methods of downforce (passive or active) on their suits/clothes to keep themselves grounded while they run? Assuming they need to run or bound rather than fly or glide, wouldn't it make them more efficient to have more contact force against the ground when gravity is 1/7 g? If an astronaut could keep his body steady while running, would a spoiler-like wing attached to his back/shoulders be useful, or would a more complex system work better?


2 Answers 2


Titan settlers will use mobility aids, but so will Earthlings

To understand how the Titans get around (their language rejected 'Titanian'), you need to understand how Earthlings get around. By 2090, this is more complicated than you might think.

Recall that Earthly transportation initially focused on people and vehicles, and never the twain would meet. This culminated in the Self Driving Car, a device so advanced no one wanted to use it except when absolutely necessary. A Self Driving Car can take you anywhere without the slightest effort on your part; but it won't go just anywhere. No matter whether you own a non-transferable personal license to operate the vehicle's software under Terms and Conditions, or rent the Car per use, you can't tell it to drive past Barbara Streisand's house, or anyone else famous - that would be a bad look for the company, and therefore against its rules. You can't take it to the black market in the slums - it's making a record of everything. (Rest assured it's also making a thorough record of every possible infraction by any foolish human driver attempting to ride an antique car within sight of a road) What the Self Driving Car is, really, is 3200 video cameras, infrared and terahertz sensors, and microphones, owned by a corporation that would love nothing more than a piece of information to use against you to decrease your social standing and bargaining position in future employment and consumer purchases. You be afraid in the Self Driving Car, and you chant through the Beast's rosary from the moment it accepts your application to enter until, with clearance, it permits you to leave near some socially approved destination.

Accordingly, Earth was the scene of many desperate and innovative inventions. There were bicycles with enough AI to link up for maximum efficiency and speed, but run by amateurs and somehow evading many formal regulations. There were personal scooters for a time, before they became part of the larger information infrastructure. But what caught on most was the Next Generation Skateboard.

The NGS is a device that can coast at fifty miles an hour, exchange battery units like the original Pac-Man, and navigate itself - off the information grid - to a destination of choice. It does these things by being small and cheap enough to smuggle en masse from rogue nations. And, by having impeccable computer control. A common prank is to toss an NGS under an unsuspecting mark. No sooner has he started to stumble than it rights him. He tries to walk off but it extends beneath him. He tries to put his feet apart but it can extend to match. He tries to throw himself off balance but it has managed to outpace him so he is leaning backwards; he can't fall over if he tries. Eventually, if only by exhaustion, the victims will hit on the notion of sitting down and lying out straight on the NGS until they can reach out from one end. The device isn't actually designed as a prison - but it is not intended to let people fall over.

The air is thick on Titan, and gravity is light, and it is easy for someone who is careless to lose their footing. So what? Their NGS will be keeping pace with them, and will keep their flailing feet planted safely on a moving platform, with just the right torque to get them back upright again. The NGS itself will not take off, due to the slightest 'downforce' at its curved leading edge. If they were truly paranoid they could integrate their suit more closely; the device needs a fair amount of power anyway, and there may not be recharge stations all over Titan.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for the NGS prank. It has its weak points, but I find the suspension of disbelief comes easy. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2021 at 1:53

I don't think the humans will need downforce for adjusting their walk/run style under low gravity/high atmospheric pressure. A few months will have their brain finding ways to fine control the muscle tension and how it is applied for the purpose of walking/running. Even more so because the mass distribution on their body will inherently be different from the suits and equipment strapped on their body they will need when going outdoor; the downforce will be one extra factor their brain will need to adjust to, because you won't be able to create an uniform downforce the way the gravity does.

There will be contexts/circumstances where/when downforce will be absolutely necessary. A few of them, as examples:

  • (wheeled or track) vehicles - need to keep contact with the ground to maintain traction.
    Note: there will be cases in which you prefer a truck to a plane for transportation, e.g. large masses to be maneuvered in tight spaces.
  • activities that require humans or equipment push against the ground - something like digging or boring. Under such circumstances, the use of anchors (with rigid or elastic cords) will be preferred, though - because they are cheaper,passive and they will work for the purpose.


This is not to say they will never use downwards helpers, just that those helpers will be used for specialized occasions and, as such, they must be unobtrusive for the regular contexts.

Think of the use of brakes - you don't apply them as often when you drive on highways, you absolutely need them in city traffic.
If you're asking "would the downward helpers make sense in the context of open space walking/running?" the answer is "probably, no". If you're asking about the context of navigating a labyrinth of caves, with frequent unexpected circumstances, directional thrust will make sense (and downward thrust is just a particular case).

  • $\begingroup$ Good to know. You don’t think it would be easier to run/stay balanced with more downforce, especially if one tries to stop or change direction quickly? My only frame of reference for low-gravity gait is videos of Apollo 11 where astronauts kept slipping and falling down trying to walk. You could be right that they were just unused to the gravity, though. $\endgroup$
    – Mark Price
    Nov 18, 2021 at 0:34
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    $\begingroup$ If they were to be there for a month, I'm convinced they would have adapted. "if one tries to stop or change direction quickly" - that will be a problem, but the same argument that makes a difficult situation (i.e. lower frequency of such circumstances) will act the same with or without aided downforce. I'm not saying they won't ever use downward helpers, I'm saying those helpers will be specialized for different occasions and, as such, they must be unobtrusive (think of the use of brakes - you don't apply them as often when you drive on highways, you absolutely need them in city traffic) $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2021 at 0:42

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