On February 2, 2015 NASA administrator Charles Bolden spoke of a selection process for projects accompanying a mission to Europa. The same day, a White House announcement revealed an additional half billion in direct funding for the space agency – with 30 million destined to “formulate” plans for Europa Clipper, a mission to Jupiter’s iconic moon, Europa.
Europa captured scientific imagination in 1979 – images from Voyager raised eyebrows over liquid water, perhaps even lifeforms, beneath Europa’s frozen exterior. Science speculates this crust to be 100 kilometers thick – many believe a hidden ocean exists, kept liquid by constant push and pull of Jupiter’s impressive gravity. Similar to extreme forms of life found in the deepest corners of our oceans – lifeforms thriving on energy from hydrothermal vents.
Europa Clipper isn’t expected to land – landing will likely take place once the Clipper mission completes accurate mapping and analysis. If all goes well, translation – Clipper’s ice penetrating radar, infrared imaging, and ion/neutral mass spectrometers bolster suspicions – A Europa landing mission will follow.
All I can say is – about time NASA. Europa or bust.
A composite of Europa made from images from the Galileo spacecraft, which orbited in the Jovian system for eight years, beginning in 1995. Areas that appear blue or white contain relatively pure water ice. Image via NASA/JPL