Fire up the HAL 9000.... NASA is going to Europa!
NASA Receives Seed Money For Europa Mission
Two weeks ago President Barack Obama signed a bill that outlines government spending for the remainder of the fiscal year (until September 30). The bill, H. R. 933, which was passed by the House and Senate before reaching President Obama, includes an increase in funding for NASA’s planetary science research program. One line in particular is peeking the interest of planetary scientists. On page 64, the bill reads: “$75,000,000 shall be for pre-formulation and/or formulation activities for a mission that meets the science goals outlined for the Jupiter Europa mission in the most recent planetary science decadal survey.” NASA has received $75 million to begin developing technology for a mission to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons.
Europa is slightly smaller than our own moon. It is primarily made out of silicate rock, likely has an iron core, has a thin atmosphere composed primarily of oxygen, and its surface is composed of icy water. Recently Europa made headlines after planetary scientists, led by Mike Brown from the California Institute of Technology, discovered the presence of magnesium sulfate salt (Epsom salt) on Europa’s surface. The presence of magnesium sulfate suggests a cycling of Europa’s salty oceans, and possibly an ecosystem beneath the surface.
The “Jupiter Europa mission” hasn’t been specified yet, but many supporters of a mission to Europa believe this indicates government support for the Europa Clipper mission. The Europa Clipper is a concept mission that is currently under study by NASA. This mission would require placing a spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter that would gather information visually about Europa and investigate whether the moon is suitable for life.
This theorized Europa Clipper mission would perform 32 flybys of Europa with altitudes varying from 25 km to 2700km.
This is great news, but NASA can’t make it to Europa on $75 million. Last year NASA’s planetary budget was cut by 20%. This is an optimistic step forward, but don’t stop advocating. Keep telling Congress to double NASA’s budget.