NASA has some huge plans for our solar system, and one future mission will go to some mind-blowing lengths to explore a mysterious moon.
NASA is planning something big, really big, and it could lead to one of the greatest discoveries we could possibly hope for: life somewhere else other than Earth. NASA’s Science Definition Team has just delivered their first ever report, and it describes a plan to launch a probe all the way to Jupiter’s moon Europa, a key candidate for extraterrestrial life situated nearly 400 million miles from Earth.
The Feb. 7 report lists some recommendations for the mission set to take place in 2031. A Europa flyby is planned for the early 2020s that will greatly inform this mission. Europa is a fascinating place for study because it is one of just a few other cosmic bodies that could potentially host some form of microbial life due to its vast underground ocean.
It was the Galileo mission that first put forward Europa as a possible place for life in the 1990s, but it obviously wasn’t able to collect the all-important samples from the ocean buried under 15 miles of ice, which is what scientists are hoping will be possible with this mission.
“The Europa Lander Science Definition Team Report presents the integrated results of an intensive science and engineering team effort to develop and optimize a mission concept that would follow the Europa Multiple Flyby Mission and conduct the first in situ search for evidence of life on another world since the Viking spacecraft on Mars in the 1970s,” a NASA statement reads. “The Europa Lander mission would be a pathfinder for characterizing the biological potential of Europa’s ocean through direct study of any chemical, geological, and possibly biological, signatures as expressed on, and just below, the surface of Europa. The search for signs of life on Europa’s surface requires an analytical payload that performs quantitative organic compositional, microscopic, and spectroscopic analysis on five samples acquired from at least 10 cm beneath the surface, with supporting context imaging observations. This mission would significantly advance our understanding of Europa as an ocean world, even in the absence of any definitive signs of life, and would provide the foundation for the future robotic exploration of Europa.”