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Space Science

Fly Me To Which Moon? 183

Posted by kdawson
from the life-don't-talk-to-me-about-life dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "NASA and the European Space Agency are expected later this week to settle an ongoing debate on whether to send a robotic mission to Jupiter's moon Europa or Saturn's moon Titan. Both are difficult places to get to — a mission to either would cost several billion dollars/euros to build and execute — and both have become alluring targets in the quest to learn whether Earth alone supports life. On the one hand, Europa is believed to have liquid oceans beneath its frozen crust which (on Earth at least) are a source of life-supporting chemistry. Scientists would like to scan Europa's surface for bits of material that may have seeped up from beneath the ice. 'Imagine if there were microbes entrained in material that has exuded onto the surface of Europa and they've been sitting there for maybe three million years,' says planetary scientist Dr. Brad Dalton. On the other hand, Titan has two enticing features in the search for life: liquids on the surface, and a thick atmosphere that can be used to slow down a spacecraft and help put it into orbit. Titan's surface water is locked into the crust as ice, but scientists suspect there may be a subsurface ocean where water mingles with ammonia. The mission will not get to the launch pad before 2020. 'It's unfortunate that there has to be a decision,' says NASA/JPL astrobiologist Dr. Kevin Hand. 'It's important to go to both. They are both such amazing and tantalizing worlds in terms of finding life.'"
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Fly Me To Which Moon?

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  • by Etcetera (14711) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @02:50AM (#26809119) Homepage

    All these worlds are belong to you. Except Europa. Attempt no landings there, every 'ZIG'!!

  • access to space (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gary W. Longsine (124661) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @02:50AM (#26809121) Homepage Journal
    If we had worked on cheaper access to space first, we could have both.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by QuantumG (50515) *

      Expecting government contractors to do anything more than provide the bare minimum to get the next contract is foolish.

      The whole point of Apollo was that nothing fundamentally *new* was required. "All" that was needed was to put the existing technology together. The same cannot be said of RLVs.

      • Re:access to space (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Bearhouse (1034238) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @05:21AM (#26809815)

        Expecting government contractors to do anything more than provide the bare minimum to get the next contract is foolish.

        The whole point of Apollo was that nothing fundamentally *new* was required. "All" that was needed was to put the existing technology together. The same cannot be said of RLVs.

        Agree with the first pont, but the second - you're kidding, right?

        The entire point of the Apollo programs was to funnel huge amounts of cash into the public/private sector so the USA could 'catch up' with the Sovs. (If they were really 'in the lead' could be debated endlessly).

        Huge advances were required in many fields, including materials science, rocket motor design and construction, computers for simulation and guidance...

        As often, Wikipedia says it better than I could:

        "The program spurred advances in many areas of technology peripheral to rocketry and manned spaceflight. These include major contributions in the fields of avionics, telecommunications, and computers. The program sparked interest in many fields of engineering, including pioneering work using statistical methods to study the reliability of complex systems made from component parts. The physical facilities and machines which were necessary components of the manned spaceflight program remain as landmarks of civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering..."

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_program [wikipedia.org]

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by QuantumG (50515) *

          There's a different between engineering and research.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by rhfixer (920651)
            That's true, but there's feedback also. Engineering calls for innovation and that may require research. A virtuous cycle.
          • by ATMD (986401)

            Scientists discover new principles.
            Engineers apply old principles in new ways.

        • so the USA could 'catch up' with the Sovs. (If they were really 'in the lead' could be debated endlessly).

          Lets see, they were the first to put an object in orbit, the first to follow that with an animal, a man, a woman, a 'permanent' space station.
          They were the first on the moon and on mars (robots).

          If you want to debate who was in advance, you'll have to pull a Clinton and debate the meaning of "is", IMO.

          • by warrior (15708)

            Yeah, the big accomplishment of the US is doing all of that while keeping the rest of the economy going, ie food on the table. The USSR channeled everything into space/military R&D for short term gain but in the end we all know how that worked out. The USSR was kind of like the morons I see sprinting at the beginning of a 10k run that then get passed up somewhere in the first couple miles and eventually finish walking.

      • by hachete (473378)

        I'd rather trust tried and trusted technology to do anything engineering. Latest Apache server? Uh, no thanks. I'd rather stick to dear old 1.3.*. I'd prefer windows 3.1 to Vista if I was going to stick my arse in the deep, deep cold of space. The 286 chipset to whatever whizz-bangery that powers the latest netbook. Especially if I was riding into the sweet unknown, I'd want my technology tried trusted, fully debugged. I don't want any blue-screens as I try and land in the zero-warmth of space.

    • Re:access to space (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Jurily (900488) <jurily@noSpAM.gmail.com> on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:38AM (#26809353)

      If we had worked on cheaper access to space first, we could have both.

      Agreed. we should have a space station at L1 [wikipedia.org] before we do any more exploring.

      • Re:access to space (Score:5, Informative)

        by Creepy Crawler (680178) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:44AM (#26809371)

        L1, L2, and L3 are all semi-unstable points. You'd be better off in L4 or L5.

        And solar wind at L1 is a bitch. At least the magnetosphere would protect some at L2.

        • Re:access to space (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Jurily (900488) <jurily@noSpAM.gmail.com> on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @04:17AM (#26809513)

          L1, L2, and L3 are all semi-unstable points. You'd be better off in L4 or L5.

          And solar wind at L1 is a bitch. At least the magnetosphere would protect some at L2.

          I have to agree with that. It does not lessen my point about having a space station first, then expanding further, though.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by djp928 (516044)

            Exactly what use would a Space Station at any of the Lagrange points be for missions to Jupiter or Saturn?

        • Re:access to space (Score:4, Insightful)

          by MadnessASAP (1052274) <madnessasap@gmail.com> on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @04:55AM (#26809675)

          Unfortunately getting to L4 or L5 is a bit of a bitch. NASA is having problems getting people back to the the moon, L4 and L5 are several times further.

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by OolimPhon (1120895)

            Unfortunately getting to L4 or L5 is a bit of a bitch. NASA is having problems getting people back to the the moon, L4 and L5 are several times further.

            Shame. I would like to see NASA et al. boost the ISS out to L4 or L5 when it's finished with, instead of splashing it and losing the whole thing.

            At least we would have an ad hoc laboratory to see how our existing equipment works beyond the magnetosphere, plus somewhere to go that's easier than the Moon or Mars but may be more useful than low earth orbit.

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            Unfortunately getting to L4 or L5 is a bit of a bitch. NASA is having problems getting people back to the the moon, L4 and L5 are several times further.

            How did this get marked insightful? For all that it is 1/6 that of earth, the moon has a gravity well. Traveling through space is cheap; all you need is supplies for any actual crew. Landing and taking off again, that's hard. To be fair, stopping ain't necessarily easy either. And let's face it, NASA can't actually get to the ISS right now (they should scrub every shuttle launch, because the vehicle is so heavily flawed by design. how many do we have to blow up to prove the point?)

          • Re:access to space (Score:4, Informative)

            by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @11:08AM (#26812627)

            Unfortunately getting to L4 or L5 is a bit of a bitch. NASA is having problems getting people back to the the moon, L4 and L5 are several times further.

            Umm, no. L4 and L5 are in the same orbit as the moon, and therefore at the same distance.

            Not that distance is a significant factor, mind you. DeltaV requirements are the limiting factors on our ability to go places in space. DeltaV requirement to put something on the moon are about 5600 m/s, to get something to L4/5 about 4000 m/s.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by weighn (578357)
          cheaper is one thing - getting space progs on a higher budgetary priority is at least as good.

          we could have worked out a single mission visiting both by now if we didn't worry about crud like cold wars, wars on drugs/terror, etc ... oh well

          BTW - i almost fell for the sig, nice one!

        • by Fëanáro (130986)

          I thought the problem with the stable points is that all sorts of debris and dust collect there?

          And sorry, could not resist:

          Oh, give me a locus where the gravitons focus
          Where the three-body problem is solved,
          Where the microwaves play down at three degrees K,
          And the cold virus never evolved.
          CHORUS: Home, home on LaGrange,

    • The Proxima Centauri Paradox
      from: http://advancedmediacommittee.typepad.com/emmyadvancedmedia/2007/05/wideband_cable_.html [typepad.com]

      "If we wanted to travel to Alpha Centauri (the nearest star system to the Earth) when should we start the project?"

      Located a mere 24 trillion miles from downtown Manhattan, Proxima Centauri, the dimmest orb in the Alpha Centauri star system, is actually the nearest star to the Earth. It takes light, which travels at 186,200 miles per second, 4.22 years to make the trip.

      Now, the Voyager spacecraft is generally considered to be the fastest man-made object traveling in space. It is heading out into interstellar space at a blistering, 38,000 miles per hour.

      So, if it was pointed at Proxima Centauri (which it is not) it would take Voyager approximately 73,000 years to get there.

      Let's think about project management for a moment. Most of the technology we need for this journey does not yet exist. My rocket scientist friends estimate that it will take mankind approximately 1,000 years to build the ship. Inside that 1,000 year time-frame, let's assume that technological advances allow us to travel four times faster than Voyager's top speed. If we start today, we could reasonably expect to arrive at Proxima Centauri in about 20,000 years.

      However, if we wait 10,000 years to start the project, technological advances might allow us a four-fold increase in speed for each 1,000 years we wait which would reduce travel time to about 2,000 years.

      Which brings us to the Alpha Centauri paradox. If we start the project today, it will take us approximately 20,000 years to get to Proxima Centauri, but if we wait 10,000 years to start the project, the whole trip will take about 12,000 years.

      Yes, in the race to the nearest star, waiting 10,000 years to start will get you there 8,000 years ahead of the people who start building technology today. Would you wait?

  • by arogier (1250960) *
    Really if we're just looking for microbes we're bound to be disappointed. Reminds me of this alien invasion story in the New Yorker. Link [newyorker.com]

    We need something that can see big things too, so we don't miss some Cthulhu looking thing just beneath the ice while we scrape around for little stuff.

    • by weighn (578357)

      Really if we're just looking for microbes we're bound to be disappointed.

      not really. let's look for microbes (most likely candidates) and if the cameras capture some horns or stuff before *NO CARRIER* then we can all hang in excitement until the next mission arrives

    • by JamesP (688957)

      Well, if there is a "big creature" there, microbes certainly exist as well.

      Ok, ok, the whole problem with Europa is the very thick layer of ice, as well as the (very justified) fear of meddling with one of the most likely places to have life in the solar system.

      Also, I'm not sure about the survivability of bacteria that 'seeps out' of the ice.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @02:56AM (#26809149)

    Why not both? This is chump change compared to the bailout, and hey! It might actually work!!! :D

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by halber_mensch (851834)

      Why not both? This is chump change compared to the bailout, and hey! It might actually work!!! :D

      Hey, you're not using my tax dollars to create jobs for alien workers...

  • by Loopy (41728) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @02:56AM (#26809151) Journal

    Just call it "stimulus" and us yanks will just print some more money for it. :/

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Vectronic (1221470)

      Print? you mean Input some more digits for it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by plasmacutter (901737)

      Just call it "stimulus" and us yanks will just print some more money for it. :/

      There's nothing wrong in this economic environment with printing money.

      We are facing a severe spectre of deflation, unofficially I think its already happening.

      While hyperinflation is bad, it's unlikely to happen with such a massive collapse of the credit markets and money supply, but deflation is a severe concern as the majority of people and businesses have taken on considerable debts.

      Deflation makes debts more onerous. The last thing we need in an environment where people's wages are being crushed in a v

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by digitalchinky (650880)

        Deflation might suck if you are already loaded up with debt, but not all of us are. I kind of like the idea of having everything drop in price, except for my wage that is. It might actually encourage me to take out a loan.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Rich0 (548339)

          The effect of inflation is to make dollars (in wallets, bank statements, and promissory notes) less significant compared to real goods and work products.

          The effect of deflation is the opposite.

          So, if you have a huge positive net worth in dollars (cash in the bank or your wallet) deflation helps you out. Those dollars become even more valuable as people desperate for work will do anything to get even a few of them from you.

          However, if you have a mortgage and student loans and a big negative net worth in dol

      • by weighn (578357)

        Just call it "stimulus" and us yanks will just print some more money for it. :/

        There's nothing wrong in this economic environment with printing money.

        Inflation and interest rates can easily get out of hand if we get to, erm, stimulated.

        credit crises (now) > cash crises (after govt goes into deficit) > print money > inflation/high int rates ... if we add further job cuts into the mix at this stage the cycle renews > more foreclosures > housing slump, food prices spiralling.

        printing money is the prescription under the old rules, but ...

  • Misread.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by gzipped_tar (1151931) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:06AM (#26809207) Journal

    would cost several billion dollars/euros to build and execute

    I misread that one as "would cost several billion dollars/euros to build an executable" and thought "what the heck of a compiler they are using!!"

  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:35AM (#26809335) Homepage Journal
    Send a manned mission to Titan.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'd love to see the flag-planting ceremony for that.

      *Sploosh*

    • Send a manned mission to Titan.

      As I recall, that happened in a Stephen Baxter novel about ten years ago. It was set in an awful dystopian future in which the loss of the shuttle Columbia in a re-entry accident led to the neglect and eventual abandonment of the manned space programme, against the backdrop of a rise in superstition, fundamentalism and paranoia in America as the Chinese gradually surpass them as the leading world power.

      Yeah. It's always embarrassing how badly wrong SF writers get the near

      • LEMs pulled out of a museum and hacked up into Titan landers

        No Baxter used the Apollo CM for that. I made the suggestion because I believe a manned mission to Titan is about as difficult now as the Apollo landings were in 1960. It is a nice, hard goal to set.

  • WHAT ?? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:35AM (#26809337)
    "On the other hand, Titan has two enticing features in the search for life: liquids on the surface, and a thick atmosphere that can be used to slow down a spacecraft and help put it into orbit."

    Going there just because it is easier is nothing but a crock. The ONLY criterion for a visit should be: which is judged to be a more likely candidate for life?

    The suggestion that they should go there because it is easier, is like the guy who says he lost some money "around the corner" but is looking over here instead because the light is better.

    Sheesh. That's logic for you. From the people who are supposed to try to do it! Is the fact that I am less than impressed apparent yet?
    • Going there just because it is easier is nothing but a crock. The ONLY criterion for a visit should be: which is judged to be a more likely candidate for life?

      NASA uses the search for life to justify space exploration, but the search is almost certain to fail. All known life (ie, on Earth) is obviously exothermic. The oxygen in our atmosphere is a clear marker for life. There is nothing comparable to this elsewhere in the solar system.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by f()rK()_Bomb (612162)

        Obviously, life cant exist without oxygen...

        oxygen catasrophe [wikipedia.org]

        Anaerobic organisms [wikipedia.org]

        • Re:WHAT ?? (Score:4, Informative)

          by MichaelSmith (789609) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @04:18AM (#26809515) Homepage Journal
          Life disturbs local entropy. An example of which is our oxygen atmosphere which is made by living things. Excess methane on Mars and Titan has been attributed to life, but is most likely the result of natural processes.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by geckipede (1261408)
            In the case of Mars, what we're looking for is survivors from a long dead ecosystem. Any big changes to the world caused by life would have happened billions of years ago and been wiped away by now.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by theM_xl (760570)

        You know, it's that rather narrow view of life that has me convinced that we're not going to know we've discovered life until it declares war on us.

        • You know, it's that rather narrow view of life that has me convinced that we're not going to know we've discovered life until it declares war on us.

          We can't look for the answer until we know the question. (apologies to DNA).

      • You are overlooking some rather glaring exceptions. The abundant life around deep-ocean volcanic vents, for example, that derive their energy from external heat and sulfur compounds.

        It has been observed that Titan and Europa obviously have heat sources, whether those sources are radioactive in nature, or due to tidal forces, or whatever is really irrelevant at the moment... the big thing being that the temperature range allows for liquid-phase organics or even water. If life can exist abundantly around o
        • You are overlooking some rather glaring exceptions. The abundant life around deep-ocean volcanic vents, for example, that derive their energy from external heat and sulfur compounds.

          Yes there are organisms on Earth which live in environments similar to a few places on Europa, Titan, etc. But I am not convinced that those organisms would exist without the rest of our biosphere. They are our outposts but I don't think they can be self contained for ever.

    • Going there just because it is easier is nothing but a crock. The ONLY criterion for a visit should be: which is judged to be a more likely candidate for life?

      Perhaps. However, one of the main criteria that WILL be used is "how much does it cost?". And "easier" costs less.

  • by volcanopele (537152) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:39AM (#26809355)
    Both the Europa and Titan mission would be very exciting missions. The Titan mission is a bit more ambitious though, with a NASA-built Titan orbiter that would map the surface at 50 meters per pixel (so not quite Google Earth resolution, but enough to define the major geologic processes that take place on Titan) and an Europe-built hot-air balloon and lander. The latter would land in the largest expanse of open liquid (methane instead of water) known outside of Earth.

    The Europa mission is a bit more tame by comparison, but has a lot more technological development to back it up (which would help it come in somewhere close to its original budget). There are two orbiters. The NASA-built orbiter would explore the inner two large moons of Jupiter: Io and Europa; while the ESA-built orbiter would explore the outer two large satellites: Ganymede and Callisto. Unlike the Titan mission, no landers are planned with this mission, but the instruments on-board both spacecraft would allow it to provide more detailed global mapping of Europa and Ganymede than the Titan mission, which as mentioned before would only provide 50-m per pixel global mapping with selected areas at higher resolution imaged by the balloon (which would be limited to a relatively narrow latitude band since Titan's winds are mostly east-west).

    The NASA-JPL website has a page with more detailed documents outlining the mission plans for each moon: http://opfm.jpl.nasa.gov/library/ [nasa.gov]

    • While the Titan mission is admittedly more ambitious (and potentially more costly) the reason why we should go to Titan is because there might be THREE radically different kinds of life there. This is from Biologist Peter Ward's book in his book "LIFE AS WE DO NOT KNOW IT".

      One might be related to, or if we're not careful with contamination, might be the same as our DNA based "CHON" (Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen and Nitrogen) life. They would presumably live on the surface feeding on the hydrocarbons drifting d

    • Here's a much less tame Europa mission: A Submarine for Europa [space-talk.com].

      It would be amazing, but it's probably an idea ahead of its time.

  • Disgusting. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:45AM (#26809377)

    We can throw as much money as we like at the Halliburtons of this world and rain the national vault to fund wars which enrich our leadership's business cronies. We can use whatever's left over to bailout people so greedy and incompetent that they'll ever change their ways.

    But we have to choose between Europa or Titan.

    • by furby076 (1461805)

      But we have to choose between Europa or Titan.

      Because in the minds of our leadership, and the stupid-common-man, there can be no benefit to space exploration. Nevermind:
      1) Exploration expands our knowledge, intelligence, imagination, soul
      2) Helps innovate technologies such as: Satellites, cell phones, fire-retardent materials firemen use, microwaves, cereal marshmellows, weather detection/prediction, and more
      3) A way to help enrich us with healthy competition/cooperation with the International communities (we were never so great as when we raced

  • "All These Planets Are Yours Except Europa, Attempt No Landing There"
    No point pissing off the starchild
    • "All These Planets Are Yours Except Europa, Attempt No Landing There"

      No point pissing off the starchild

      As long as we land before 2010, we're fine ;-)

  • by nicodoggie (1228876) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @04:21AM (#26809533)
    In the book version, we send the thing to Titan. Then when Stanley Kubrick does the movie, send it to Europa!
    • In the book version, we send the thing to Titan.

      Japetus

      Then when Stanley Kubrick does the movie, send it to Europa!

      Io.

  • by hyades1 (1149581) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @04:26AM (#26809551)

    Two things: First, a question. What are the orbital mechanics? Would it be possible to build a "bus" that could drop off a navigation-capable "probe taxi" near each destination?

    Second, a dream. If ever there was a time to send a large human crew on a career-length mission (maybe 30 - 40 years), this would be the one. High-acceleration supply/instrument packages could be sent before and after them. A serious commitment to zero-gravity construction could be undertaken. The cost would be huge, but the payback would potentially be on a scale rivaling the technology revolution that grew out of Apollo.

    And let's face it, the odds that we're screwing up our only livable habitat in potentially-ugly ways are increasing. Developing the capacity to move at least a few people elsewhere isn't such a terrible idea.

    • Second, a dream. If ever there was a time to send a large human crew on a career-length mission (maybe 30 - 40 years), this would be the one.

      I agree. Sometimes it is easier to justify the harder projects with ultimately better outcomes. JFK pulled it off with Apollo. I wonder if Obama will see an opportunity to extend US influence to the outer planets.

    • First, a question. What are the orbital mechanics? Would it be possible to build a "bus" that could drop off a navigation-capable "probe taxi" near each destination?

      No.

      Second, a dream. If ever there was a time to send a large human crew on a career-length mission (maybe 30 - 40 years), this would be the one. High-acceleration supply/instrument packages could be sent before and after them. A serious commitment to zero-gravity construction could be undertaken. The cost would be huge, but the p

    • by CheshireCatCO (185193) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @09:35AM (#26811433) Homepage

      And let's face it, the odds that we're screwing up our only livable habitat in potentially-ugly ways are increasing. Developing the capacity to move at least a few people elsewhere isn't such a terrible idea.

      And then do what with them once they're there? If we can terraform any other planet into a habitable place, it's hard to see why we couldn't do it to Earth to undo the environmental damage we've wrought. After all, Earth currently is habitable and anything we're likely to do wouldn't move it further from that mark than the other planets.

      • by hyades1 (1149581)

        Research in evolutionary biology suggests this may not be the case. It would probably be easier to take a system as complex as our current environment and turn it into something else entirely than to turn the clock back. Krakatoa after the major eruption in 1883 is an example of significant differences that arise even within the context of an otherwise-stable environment. The climax community that emerged a hundred years after the eruption was significantly different than the one which existed before it

        • Either I'm missing your point or you're missing mine.

          Sure, it'd be hard to turn the clock back on our atmosphere. I'm not saying it would be harder than, say, messing the atmosphere up. That wasn't my point. My point is that it'd be easier to fix OUR atmosphere (which has all the right basic components in roughly the right amounts and is in a pretty good place relative to the Sun to sustain us) than to terraform, say, Mars or Titan.

    • Two things: First, a question. What are the orbital mechanics? Would it be possible to build a "bus" that could drop off a navigation-capable "probe taxi" near each destination?

      Possible, but unlikely. Usually, to get to Saturn, NASA would do a slingshot manoeuvre around Jupiter to pick up speed. So a Titan mission would likely get to Europa's vicinity. However, the hard thing would be stopping there. In space travel making any change to your orbit takes a lot of energy. You've built up a lot of ene
    • by joh (27088)

      f ever there was a time to send a large human crew on a career-length mission (maybe 30 - 40 years), this would be the one. High-acceleration supply/instrument packages could be sent before and after them. A serious commitment to zero-gravity construction could be undertaken.

      A nice thing about Titan is that it has a thick atmosphere which is not breathable but otherwise fine for humans. You could build habitats that just need to be airtight and insulated, but not pressurized. Even large structures (like inf

  • by r00t (33219) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @04:41AM (#26809625) Journal

    The mountains of Venus would be interesting. Radar reflection suggests that it might rain bismuth or lead.

    Landing on Pluto would be a nice challenge. First there is the problem of slowing down enough. Then there is the problem of landing without melting a deep hole.

  • by Bearhouse (1034238) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @05:38AM (#26809913)

    Let's go to the best place for living there some day. (Sounds like neither)

    So, we're always careful about not infecting extra-terrestrial ecosystems the way we have here on Earth. We're obsessed with finding some kind of 'life', (but have not so far). Well and good, and I've always supported those points of view.

    But we might want to consider the chilling possibility that one day the Earth might become uninhabitable, (asteroid strike, nuclear war, superbug, whatever). OK, it's improbable, but then again so is finding 'life' on some barren, frozen moon.

    If that did happen - maybe hundreds of years from now - our descendants would be pretty glad if we'd shipped out bugs that had quietly been transforming methane into oxygen (for example) over the centuries...

  • I'm amazed (Score:2, Funny)

    by anonymShit (1415181)
    I'm really amazed that no one came up with this simple idea: what happens if there is some kind of primitive microscopic life in any of those worlds, we bring it to Earth, and have a major epidemic?
    I can imagine in the news "the Titan victeria(strange alien cross between virus and bacteria) has produced 3000million deaths...govt producing tunnels underground for nonzombie survivors..."

    For the sceptics on putting money into this: money into science always pays back, you shouldn't worry. It's only when
  • Both? (Score:3, Funny)

    by VincenzoRomano (881055) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @07:05AM (#26810379) Homepage Journal
    Why not?
    A single mission to drop two probes!
  • Can't go to Europa, the monolith said so.
  • With cost-saving gravitational assists, many of these proposed missions have time-lines into the 2020s and 2030s. Boomers wont be living that long.
  • by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @11:47AM (#26813301) Journal
    Putting people on Mars is a waste of time.

    Kill research on a Mars mission and find out more about the universe in general before the resources run out. Kill the Mars mission and fund the rest.

    RS

  • Standardize (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jbeaupre (752124) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @11:58AM (#26813499)

    Thinking about Voyager I and II and the Mariner series, maybe it's time to create a standard probe platform (orbiter and lander halves if you insist) and build them in large quantities. Make them rugged and try to minimize expensive customization. Keep them relatively small so several can be launched at once. Then start tossing them everywhere. Use whatever orbital mechanics work (Hohmann, interplanetary transport network, whatever). But send 2, 3, or more to each destination.

    Launch a dozen at Jupiter with arrivals spaced apart and you can wait to see if the first one arrives safely. If it does, send the second to another moon or to the same one for redundancy. You now have mission flexibility on a whole new level.

    Send 2 to our moon. Then if you want to try a software upgrade, you can try it on those first.

    And so on.

    The whole point is to get the cost per craft down to the 10's of millions. If you can average 4 for $50 million and buy a rocket to launch the 4 for $50 million, you can now send 40 for the price of one. And now you have a series of missions such that if one fails, it's not a disaster. Will the data be as good as a custom probe? No way. But with so many probes you can take risks you never could before and maybe see things custom probes never could. Risks such as sending them odd places or putting some cheap funky instruments from some university.

    Almost the "Faster Better Cheaper" concept, but based on mass production instead of 1 of a kind probes.

    • A lander suitable for Mars would be very different from a lander suitable for Titan.
    • A few problems with that:

      1) Technology keeps moving forward. A standard platform would be obsolete and holding the program *back* within 5-10 years. (As it is, spacecraft use technology that always seems outdated.)

      2) Most re-visiting missions require unique platforms to really cover the scientific goals. What works for Mars doesn't necessarily work for Saturn's rings, for example. Mariner/Pioneer/Voyager avoided this because they were survey missions: we didn't know what we were going to find, so we wer

  • Europa Hands Down (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hackus (159037) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:46PM (#26817495) Homepage

    This is not really a REAL question I hope.

    Hands down, the place to go is Europa.

    Titan's chemistry is not interesting, when it comes to life.

    Europa will have vast energy sources, liquid water, probably at ranges of Titan to superheated on the ocean floor.

    The curvature of space around Jupitor will stretch the moon as it orbits the planet, heating it to a decent temperature.

    I find it AMAZING that the curvature of space time, is in itself responsible for the energy production.

    It is as close to a perpetual motion engine as you will get!

    Titan would be a great place to study exochemsistry, but to study life? Not as good as Europa.

    Besides Arthur C Clarke has a great track record going for predictions. :-)

    Go Europa!! W00t! Life or BUST!

    -Hack

  • All of you people who favor manned space exploration should clearly see why we can't do both. If we didn't waste so much money on the low earth orbit ferris wheel to "research the effects of weightlessness/space-travel on the human body" and other scientifically worthless bullshit, we would be able to do both. Cue the "If Christopher Columbus..." and "It's our destiny to leave earth..." moronic fairy tales.

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