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NASA Appointed Team Set Out Priorities For a Europa Surface Mission 83

Posted by samzenpus
from the because-we-can dept.
astroengine writes "Europa has only been seen from afar, but its aura of intrigue has inspired scientists to study ideas as to how to explore the icy Jovian moon. In a new study published in the journal Astrobiology [paper], a NASA-appointed science definition team lays out the rich tapestry of discovery facing any mission to study Europa, but what questions do we need answering? 'If one day humans send a robotic lander to the surface of Europa, we need to know what to look for and what tools it should carry,' said Robert Pappalardo, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and the study's lead author. 'There is still a lot of preparation that is needed before we could land on Europa, but studies like these will help us focus on the technologies required to get us there, and on the data needed to help us scout out possible landing locations. Europa is the most likely place in our solar system beyond Earth to have life today, and a landed mission would be the best way to search for signs of life.'"
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NASA Appointed Team Set Out Priorities For a Europa Surface Mission

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  • Search for life (Score:5, Interesting)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @07:30PM (#44503955)

    As we've discovered, life is pretty resiliant. It can survive in a vaccum, it can survive radiation, it can feed on all kinds of chemicals and environments... and every year we discover life has found a new way to exist in a previously-thought inhospitable environment. We even have self-replicating proteins (prions) that are so resistant that medical tools used on someone infected with mad cow have to be thrown away after, because they can't be adequately disinfected.

    I'd be very interested in knowing how NASA plans on disinfecting its spacecraft prior to launch so it doesn't wind up detecting now, or years or centuries down the line, what we brought with us.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      I'd be very interested in knowing how NASA plans on disinfecting its spacecraft prior to launch so it doesn't wind up detecting now, or years or centuries down the line, what we brought with us.

      Google [google.com] can be helpful. So can wikipedia.

      *sigh* a few years ago I'd have said "Google is your friend."

      • Google can be helpful. So can wikipedia.

        (clicks link) Except when it isn't.

        Result 1: Disinfection of Spacecraft Potable Water Systems... which is inside the spacecraft, not the spacecraft itself. And it's a PDF.

        Result 2: Microbial Monitoring and Disinfection aboard NASA Spacecraft... sounds promising, but it's paywalled. For $17.50 though I might be able to get access to a dense academic tomb. Thanks, Google!

        Result 3: Corrosion control and disinfection studies in spacecraft water systems... ah, another example of water system disinfection, not sp

      • I read recently that NASA basically catalogs what bacteria it can't eradicate and if it finds those bacteria on an alien planet will have to assume the source was contamination. I'm not sure how they'd plan to handle centuries from now if they found a descendent bacteria that was mostly unrecognizable from the original, cataloged bacteria.
        • by lxs (131946)

          By that time the organism has become a native of the planet so it doesn't matter anymore.

          • It still matters if you care where the species originated. For example, the difference between Europa (a) having originated life completely independently of Earth and (b) having been contaminated by life from earth and then evolved separately is very significant.
    • We even have self-replicating proteins (prions) that are so resistant that medical tools used on someone infected with mad cow have to be thrown away after, because they can't be adequately disinfected.

      Prions are not "self-replicating" unless they are inside a cow, or other suitable host. They pose no threat of contamination, unless Europa has cows (and yes, I know all about the white bull: wrong Europa).

    • I've seen a lot of conversation over the fact that earth harbours many extremophiles. We have found life that survives, occasionally even thrives in environments that would be immediately fatal to the vast majority of life that we know of. The thing is though, I rarely see anyone pointing out a few key facts and questions:

      1) Sure, life can survive in some pretty inhospitable environments, but can it arise in those environments? As i understand it, life as we know it arose in comparatively benign, even ide

      • What if we take a few small vats of all these new micro-organisms we've discovered in the Antarctic? We can generate whatever little excess heat and power we can to keep them from completely freezing on the journey and then drop/drill them as deep as we can. Some model's think that maybe the surface ice there might be in places only 1km thick, right? I know, it's unlikely that life will take, but at least it wouldn't be that much more far fetched than a plate with some naked people on it, or a record for al

        • by lxs (131946)

          Nurse! Nurse! The Universe Domination Program that our alien creators implanted aeons ago has awakened in this one. Better bring out the sedative before we all end up in an X Files episode.

  • That artist's rendering was awesome, but I want to see some photos taken from landers. Not a bad article.

  • 2010 (Score:5, Funny)

    by bmo (77928) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @07:32PM (#44503979)

    ALL THESE WORLDS
    ARE YOURS EXCEPT
    EUROPA
    ATTEMPT NO
    LANDING THERE

    Filter error: Don't use so many caps. Filter error: Don't use so many caps. Filter error: Don't use so many caps.

    • Re:2010 (Score:5, Funny)

      by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @07:41PM (#44504051)

      Filter error: Don't use so many caps. Filter error: Don't use so many caps. Filter error: Don't use so many caps.

      Imagine what would have happened had the puny Earthlings' communication network rejected HAL's message due to a triggered lameness filter.

      • Imagine what would have happened had the puny Earthlings' communication network rejected HAL's message due to a triggered lameness filter.

        It would have looked like Daleks arguing with Cybermen [youtube.com]
        .

        • What I'd like to see even more is an argument between the Borg and the Vogons about whether resistance is futile or useless. Personally, my money's on the Vogons; pure, unadulterated, bloody-minded stubbornness has its uses, sometimes.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Pending Lucifer/Sol2, isn't Europa is still dormant and fair game?

    • by symbolset (646467) *
      Well I guess I can close one tab now as I was holding one open to post this.
  • Does she have a role in this team? I didn't see her name except in references. Cynthia gave interesting presentations about Europa, "When looking for life, go where the water is." Her bio at http://www.seti.org/users/cphillips [seti.org]

    On another thread... alright you guys, cue in the references from "2010"....

  • by gmuslera (3436) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @07:44PM (#44504067) Homepage Journal

    Could be life there, but, we will search for it in the right places [wikipedia.org]? Some potential places for life could be hard to reach for a robotic probe that we could send. And will we be able to recognize it as life, if is different enough from what we have here?

  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @07:44PM (#44504073)

    The only thing we could missing is the sound of a thousand alien mating frogs.

  • If it is indeed a 'garden spot' for life, we should be extra careful to not send any wayward seeds with our robotic emissaries.

    "Oh, hello deep-dwelling sentient beings. Yeah, sorry about those microbes that got stuck to our probe and seem to be causing your extinction."

    O The Embarrassment.
  • by tlambert (566799) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @07:54PM (#44504151)

    #1 tool a robot probe could carry to Europa: a human.

    Seriously, is it any wonder no one watches launches any more?

    Watching a robot probe go anywhere is "Great, Skynet explores another planet without us: big deal".

    • Have we ever sent a person where it was certain, and known to them, that they would die?

      • by bmo (77928)

        Have we ever sent a person where it was certain, and known to them, that they could die?

        Fixed.

        And yes, all the time.

        In the illuminating conversation posted online on the CPA Australia website, Armstrong revealed how he thought his mission, Apollo 11, only had a 50% chance of landing safely on the moon's surface and said it was "sad" that the current US government's ambitions for Nasa were so reduced compared with the achievements of the 1960s.

        http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/may/23/neil-armstrong-acc [theguardian.com]

        • It is not satisfactory when you change the question to the one you would like to answer.

          • by bmo (77928)

            It is not satisfactory

            Tough Bananas. Deal With It.

            --
            BMO

          • by Type44Q (1233630)

            It is not satisfactory when you change the question to the one you would like to answer.

            What, you lose half your brain in a car wreck? He's illustrating a point [thefreedictionary.com].

      • by tlambert (566799)

        Have we ever sent a person where it was certain, and known to them, that they would die?

        Tons of military missions. I guess we could recruit death row inmates as astronauts...

    • Yes, but manned space is very expensive, and manned deep-space is basically impossible with present day budgets.

      There are serious technical problems as well, but (like most things) they could be solved if the budget were there.

      With the limited budgets we have, we get more science out of robots.

      (and yes, personally I would happily pay my share and even work on a manned space program). I'm happy to see taxes increased very substantially even if only 10% of that went to space.

      • Replace budget with politics and or information control and your a winner.

        The total cost in currency is great. But the actually "energy needed" is not extremely high compared to what we exert on other tasks.

        We could direct a great deal of effort to space exploration and development. But our OVERLORDS disallow this.

        The knowledge and information is pretty well fleshed out. Or at least the solid basis of it is. /tinfoilhat

    • by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @08:20PM (#44504371) Homepage

      Humans would quickly die of radiation poisoning on the surface of Europa if they didn't have lots of shielding. Jupiter has massive radiation belts that basically make everything inside of the orbit of Callisto off limits to us.

      Lets stick with unmanned probes for now.

      • by Skrapion (955066)

        Luckily, water absorbs radiation quite well.

        Rapture on Europa, anyone?

        What could possibly go wrong?

    • by miniMUNCH (662195)
      In addition to the significant radiation problem (pointed out already).

      The spacecraft changes from something the size of a small car for a robotic mission to something much more massive to support human life for the 6+ year trip to Europa.

      We simply don't have the "technology <--> budget" combo to do a manned mission to Europa within the first half of this century. We need major game-changing tech breakthroughs to carry out a human mission even to Mars, let alone the Jovian planets.

      A a robotic landing
      • the price (money terms) of putting something in orbit does not decrease the more you throw up there, nor does it as time goes on, nor does it as more efficient engines are developed.

        The idea of the Eden Project was to try and create an entirely enclosed, self-sufficient environment designed to support up to a dozen humans. Apart from the air leaks, the odd contaminants (at least one of which prompted immediate evacuation because it released highly toxic gases), mass plant die-off which caused the oxygen lev

    • I would vote flowers. Think of recording the exposure of plant life on the surface of Europa; a demonstration of the resiliency of life. If anything else, the footage would be absolutely beautiful and fantastic.

  • "All these worlds are yours, except Europa.
    Attempt no landing there.
    Use them together.
    Use them in peace."

    We're boned.

  • It hasn't worked well so far. There have been a few failed penetrator probes but I wonder if Europa is the place to make it work. Identify a soft spot in the ice and power straight down.

    Or take advantage of the smooth icy surface and try a variant on the martian airbag lander. No doubt it would roll for a few hundred km and finish up in a low spot, but it saves you 1.5 km/s of delta-v.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What the JPL team is stating is "Do we go in with a condom or raw?"

    Going in with a condom can take decades; this IS Obama's preferred solution ... because he will not be the President to have to OK or NOT OK it. Har de har har.

    Rawing it ... the JPL solution ... will just do it and learn along the way in a series of stages to reach the intended goal. A drill rig on Europa and penetrating the ice cover, without contamination, to the ocean below, retrieving several samples and returning the samples to Earth fo

  • We were supposed to leave that one alone....
  • Priorities (Score:5, Insightful)

    by betterprimate (2679747) on Thursday August 08, 2013 @01:47AM (#44506049)

    Can we give the NSA, DHS, CIA budget to NASA? You know, let's do something as a people. The only difference between the U.S. and other great empires, is that the U.S. government and leaders give fuck all about artistic, philosophical, and scientific endeavors. You know, the stuff that gives us dignity as a people. They use to. Or at least pretended to.

    Man, do I oft times wish I lived in a different culture. I'm sick of this fascist corporate utilitarianism. What's the progress? The only thing the U.S. gave to the world was done by our impoverished and enslaved. Now, we can't even have viable land to grow for our personal needs.

    France could sound cool; you have to give props to a culture that created Joan of Arc. What current cultures are there that welcome such endeavors? Really, I want to know.

    • by Type44Q (1233630)

      What's the progress?

      Fruitless question; what you need to be asking is "who has benefited from this current sorry-ass state of affairs?" (Identifying a solution - not just lamenting the situation - requires identifying the problem.)

    • by khallow (566160)
      You know you could do it yourself. If the project is a bit bigger than you think you can handle, then get some help from like minded people.
    • What the hell? Spoken like a ignorant stereotype of Americans. At what point, exactly did the US government EVER give fuck all about artistic, philosophical, and scientific endeavors? The only reason NASA was funded in the first place was the Space Race. Afterwards science was funded out of pure selfishness, in order to be #1.

      As a US citizen, it is remarkably easy to travel around the world. I suggest trying. World travel is a great enlightened - you see exactly how fucked-up the rest of the world i

      • Calm down a little, no?

        What the hell? Spoken like a ignorant stereotype of Americans. At what point, exactly did the US government EVER give fuck all about artistic, philosophical, and scientific endeavors? The only reason NASA was funded in the first place was the Space Race. Afterwards science was funded out of pure selfishness, in order to be #1.

        You will probably have to stretch a little farther back to discover U.S. politicians reverence of artistic and scientific pursuits. Let me pull one strange chara

  • Reminds me of "The Diamond Moon", volume 5 of the "Venus Prime" book serie by Paul Preuss (based on novels by Arthur C Clarke, again him!).

    They explore Europa by drilling into the ice layer and using a submarine to navigate the water below. Interesting books for sci-fi fans!
  • Europa is an excellent place as is Saturn's Titan. Both should be explored. Why? Because it is a freaking awesome thing to do! Whether it is skating on an icy surface or sailing on sailing on a sea of methane, both are fantastic challenges. Too bad decades of space exploration cost cutting have reduced the amount of exploration awesomeness.
  • Europa Report [magnetreleasing.com]

    Funniest part was when ground control plays the 2001 waltz to the crew as they leave earth orbit.
  • What right does NASA have to set priorities for a European surface mission?
    Shouldn't that be up to the Europeans to decide what their priorities are for their own surface?
    Typical Americans always trying to tell other people how to run things and --

    Wait, what?

    That's "Europa the moon of Jupiter" not "Europe the continent on Earth"?

    Oh.

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