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NASA Gets $75 Million For Europa Mission 135

Posted by Soulskill
from the go-big-or-go-home dept.
astroengine writes "It may not be a lander or an orbiter, but its something. Europa, one of Jupiter's largest moons, has been the focus of much scrutiny over its potential life-bearing qualities. It has an icy crust over a liquid water ocean and now salts have been detected on its surface, suggesting a cycling of nutrients from the surface to the interior. This only amplifies the hypothesis that Europa not only could support basic life, it could support complex life. But how can we find out? The proposed Europa Clipper received interest at NASA HQ last year as it would optimize the science while keeping the mission budget under $2 billion. It would be a spacecraft that will be in orbit around Jupiter, but make multiple flybys of Europa to assess the moon for its habitable qualities. Now, in a bill signed by President Obama and approved by lawmakers, $75 million has been allocated (for the remainder of this fiscal year) for a 'Jupiter Europa mission.' Could it represent the seed money for the Europa Clipper? We'll have to wait and see."
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NASA Gets $75 Million For Europa Mission

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  • Warning (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @02:27PM (#43340239) Homepage

    "All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landing there."

  • Re:$75 Million huh? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @02:55PM (#43340597)

    Europa is tough. It is theorized that there are several kilometers of ice above the liquid oceans. But they could be slushy instead, or who knows. So the first priority is doing a detailed survey to find out where the ocean begins. Once that is known, then ideas like cryobots [wikipedia.org] can be developed to penetrate into it. An orbiter might be able to use very large solar arrays, but an RTG is more likely. For a cryobot, a nuclear reactor will be needed. Both of these will cost billions, so the $75 million is just how to research how much is actually needed.

  • Re:$75 Million huh? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MightyMartian (840721) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @03:12PM (#43340805) Journal

    Indeed. We're a long ways away from having the technical know-how to drill through several kilometers of ice (and lets' face it, we really have no idea how thick the ice "crust" may be), either by robot or even manned mission. First things first.

    I think something like Cassini–Huygens is probably the way to go. If I was in charge and had a good budget, I'd probably have two probes; a lander that could attempt some surface measurements, perhaps land near where surface ice is the youngest for possible signs of biological activity, and a seismometer onboard. The other probe would just smash into the moon to try to ring it like a gong to get some good seismic readings that ought to reveal more about the thickness of the ice crust, the depth of the liquid ocean beneath and data on the core. You would also have the main spaceship which could fly around the Jovian system for several years, get some data on some of the other cool Jovian satellites.

    At some point we'll be able to get a probe to the liquid ocean on Europa, but until then we can take some good initial steps like we've done with Titan.

  • by sl4shd0rk (755837) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @03:13PM (#43340809)

    $75 million will buy a little more than 3 F-16 Falcon fighter jets. [af.mil]

  • by necro81 (917438) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @04:07PM (#43341469) Journal
    You need to expend a whole lot more energy to get into Europa orbit compared to just Jupiter orbit. Plus, if you are spending all your time in the orbit of a Galilean satellite, you are spending all your time in Jupiter's radiation belts. As mentioned in the article, this would limit your spacecraft life to perhaps 100 days.
  • by lgw (121541) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @05:57PM (#43342623) Journal

    The height of the cold war was a different time. We have far fewer, far older aircraft and ship hulls today. We now spend more than 3x as much in checks sent to the poor and the old (many of whom are not poor) as we do on defense and wars. What most people think of as government spending: freeways, NASA, federal court system, etc, all together is small in comparison.

    Very round numbers in $Trillions:

    2.2 - Mailing checks to old and poor people
    0.7 - Defense and wars
    0.2 - Interest on the debt (at record low interest rates)
    0.5 - Everything else the government does

    The tiny NASA budget is just a glimse into the problem: the federal government is a pension plan with a military, and everything else is a dwindling afterthought. Oh, and let's not forget:

    2.5 - Total federal revenue - no amount of cutting that "everything else" bucket will make this balance.

One good reason why computers can do more work than people is that they never have to stop and answer the phone.

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