NASA has made clear its intentions to get a closer look at Jupiter’s fascinating moon Europa in the coming decade, and on Wednesday the space agency shared more details about how it plans to explore the Jovian satellite with its red-striped icy shell and hidden liquid Ocean beneath. “Today we’re taking an exciting step from concept to mission, in our quest to find signs of life beyond Earth,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Observations of Europa have provided us with tantalizing clues over the last two decades, and the time has come to seek answers to one of humanity’s most profound questions.”
“Europa is the most likely place to find life in our solar system today, because we think there’s a liquid water ocean beneath its surface, and we know that on Earth, everywhere that there’s water, we find life,” Robert Pappalardo, a project scientist for NASA’s Europa mission, said in the video below. On Wednesday, NASA announced that its mission concept to send a spacecraft to survey Europa and assess its habitability passed its first major internal review and is moving into a development phase called formulation.
“Observations of Europa have provided us with tantalizing clues over the last two decades, and the time has come to seek answers to one of humanity’s most profound questions,” John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a release.
The Galileo mission of the 1990s was the first to collect strong evidence that salt water warmed by tidal heating and a rocky sea floor could provide the necessary building blocks for life to survive on Europa, inspiring one of the more realistic sci-fi movies in recent memory, “Europa Report.”
Unlike the manned mission to Europa portrayed in the movie, NASA first plans to send an unmanned probe to orbit Jupiter in the 2020s, arriving several years later and making 45 flybys of Europa to study the surface and interior composition of the tantalizing moon.
Pappalardo explains that the mission plan to orbit Jupiter and pass by Europa every few weeks rather than orbit the moon itself was chosen because of the high doses of radiation Europa receives from the huge planet, which could adversely affect a spacecraft.The mission could also be able to get samples from water and/or gas plumes that may be shooting out into space from the surface of Europa. If evidence of life is found in the plumes or within Europa, the implications could be nothing short of existential. Reports CNET.
“If there is life in Europa, it almost certainly was completely independent from the origin of life on Earth,” Pappalardo explained. “That would mean the origin of life must be pretty easy throughout the galaxy and beyond.”