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NASA Laying Foundation For Jupiter Moon Space Mission 100

Posted by samzenpus
from the here-we-go dept.
coondoggie (973519) writes "NASA recently began laying out the groundwork for the technology it will need to fly an unmanned mission to Jupiter's intriguing moon Europa. Scientists say Europa — which orbits the planet Jupiter about 778 million km (484 million miles) from the Sun — could support life because it might have an ocean of liquid water under its miles-thick frozen crust. NASA said in December the Hubble Space Telescope observed water vapor above the frigid south polar region of Jupiter's moon Europa, providing the first strong evidence of water plumes erupting off the moon's surface."
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NASA Laying Foundation For Jupiter Moon Space Mission

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  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Monday April 07, 2014 @01:09PM (#46685365)

    Probably the best chance of finding LIFE in the solar system and NASA is still tipping over rocks on Mars.

    • by Overzeetop (214511) on Monday April 07, 2014 @01:16PM (#46685469) Journal

      It's way the fuck out there, bathed in EM radiation, and goddamned cold. Mars is right next door and practically balmy in comparison.

      • by schlachter (862210) on Monday April 07, 2014 @01:20PM (#46685505)

        but it doesn't have oceans.

        AND, there are lots of other interesting moons out that way. good to establish a precedent that this far out exploration can be done.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Ranbot (2648297)

          but it doesn't have oceans.

          AND, there are lots of other interesting moons out that way. good to establish a precedent that this far out exploration can be done.

          You aren't paying nearly enough attention.

          1) NASA already landed a probe on Titan (the Huygens probe) so there's your precedent.

          2) The previous point above that it's "goddam cold" is exactly right. Power sources, electronics, moving parts/mechanisms, etc. don't operate well (understatement) at the extreme cold that would be encountered at Europa. The Huygens probe was only expected to last mere minutes of operation at Titan's surface due to the extreme cold, and you can expect the same from Europa. So, ther

          • Actually, ESA built the Huygens lander which descended to the surface of Titan. It was carried there on the NASA-ASI Cassini orbiter after being launched by a NASA rocket, but Huygens was European-built, with instruments from Europe and the US.

            Its the U-571 gambit: keep saying that things were achieved by the US independent of the truth of the matter, and pretty soon it becomes received knowledge.

            • by Ranbot (2648297)

              Thanks for the clarification. I don't mean to take anything away from other's achievements.

      • The surface of Europa certainly is, but one would assume that a thick ice layer and a large body of liquid water would provide at least a reasonable amount of protection for any life that might exist below.

      • The plumes make it possible to directly sample the water under the ice and look for organics; a very, very tempting prospect.
        • by mrsquid0 (1335303) on Monday April 07, 2014 @01:47PM (#46685783) Homepage

          The plumes are probably from short-lived pockets of recently melted water near the surface. It is very unlikely that they are directly connected to the underlying ocean, which may be 100 km or more beneath the ice surface.

          • It is very unlikely that they are directly connected to the underlying ocean

            You know what's 'very unlikely'? A /. poster having any clue about Europa that NASA doesn't already know in it's sleep.

            how do you think volcanoes work? melting rock only near the surface?

            Besides, with ice formation it doesn't destroy evidence of organisms that were in the water.

          • Show me the article that says this. At this point we have to assume that the plume are similar to the plume on Enceladus and coming from the ocean. And even if it was near-surface melts, the ice originally derived from the ocean and thus, because of the constant re-surfacing of Europa, it would still have organics, if there are organics in the ocean. So MrSquid; why are all your post negative? [I think I know why...]
    • Exactly. Why has NASA been dragging their feet? They have been studying this mission for 10 years at least without funding it. The reason is simple: NASA is run by ex-astronauts and pilots who prefer manned missions to unmanned even though there is almost no scientific return from manned missions. The other reason is good old Houston politics and money; there are billions of dollars at stake in keeping the manned mission pork flowing for pointless projects such as the Rocket to Nowhere (the SLS); the un
      • by mrsquid0 (1335303) on Monday April 07, 2014 @01:52PM (#46685843) Homepage

        That is not the reason. The reason that there has not been a dedicated Europa mission is because it will be a very expensive mission and the money is not available. The reason that the money is not available is because the US government does not want to give NASA the required funding. If the US congress offered to give NASA the money, and kept the funding going for the 15-20 years that would be required to do a long-term exploration of Europa, then NASA would jump at the opportunity. There is also a matter of rivalries between JPL and various NASA centers, but a reliable funding stream would go a long way towards resolving those.

        • Exactly. Why has NASA been dragging their feet? They have been studying this mission for 10 years at least without funding it.

          It gets proposed, but every time a proposal takes a serious look at how expensive it would be, the funding isn't there, and they are asked to scale back.

          Jupiter is hard. Jupiter is nearly a billion kilometers away-- Mars is hard, but even at its furthest, it's only a quarter billion kilometers distant. Compared to Jupiter, Mars is easy. Jupiter also has a huge gravitational potential (which makes it hard to stop when you get there), and that doesn't even get to the issue of landing on Europa once you get

          • by k6mfw (1182893)
            Europa may be hard but I like to imagine a submarine launched into the water below and take pictures of the little fishes. Well maybe not but as SETI's Cynthia Phillips says when looking for life go where the water is.
        • We just have to convince someone that water from Europa is a miracle tonic that grows hair and enlarges the penis. The funding will take care of itself.
        • Based on recent actions, if Congress gave NASA the money, NASA would divert it to manned space pork. Congress want planetary science to continue at NASA, but NASA and the Administration seemed determined to kill it. The whole reason Carl Sagan and Bruce Murray started the Planetary Society was to stop the poaching of funds from planetary science (such as a Europa mission) to fuel manned spaceflights. Sagan must be rolling in his grave now: http://www.planetary.org/blogs... [planetary.org]
      • Nope. George Bush tried to cancel the Voyager programs (for a paltry 4 million in savings). He was informed there would be a human shield preventing anyone trying to turn them off.
        • by bobbied (2522392) on Monday April 07, 2014 @03:00PM (#46686569)

          He was informed there would be a human shield preventing anyone trying to turn them off.

          Not to void your political views.... Voyager probes are by necessity being slowly turned off one part at a time as power from the reactor declines. As more and more power is lost, they've had to turn off things and we will be pretty much done by 2025 no matter what we do. Personally I'm all for continuing the mission as long as there is unique science they can do, but if we've reached the end, we've reached the end.

          • Nope, it was a cost cutting measure pure and simple. There's plenty the voyager's can still do that absolutely nothing else can or will be able to do for the next 40 years - measure the heliopause.

            They haven't reached the end...hence why NASA stood in pretty heavy lockstep to protect them.
            • by bobbied (2522392)

              Nope, it was a cost cutting measure pure and simple. There's plenty the voyager's can still do that absolutely nothing else can or will be able to do for the next 40 years - measure the heliopause.

              By 2025, there will not be enough power on the Voyager 1 spacecraft to run any of it's sensors, even if we can talk to it, there won't be much information we can get. The gyroscopes are expected to stop working sometime around 2016, which may make continued communications impossible after that date. Voyager 2 is not that far behind. So we have less than 2 more years of expected ability to communicate with the spacecraft. All of this has nothing to do with NASA's budget but the expected limitations of the s

        • The Bush admin was responsible for a lot of current missions such as the Curiosity Rover on Mars. Obama Admin? Nothing.
          • Context matters. I never said he didn't do anything for space exploration. In response to a statement saying NASA only wants 'manned' missions, I showed an example where even a small unmanned program was heavily defended by NASA.
        • by cusco (717999)

          They also ordered the "disposal" of Mariner data, which NASA handed over to the Planetary Society rather than destroy. This annoyed the White House so much that they specifically ordered that the remaining unanalyzed Pioneer data be destroyed according to gov't data destruction policies. NASA management blatantly ignored the order and the Planetary Society pulled together funding almost overnight to be able to accept the tapes. Then the Society found one of the only remaining tape drives still able to re

          • The solution to the Pioneer anomaly is soooo much more boring than the alternative, speculative theories. I will never forgive the Planetary Society for ruining my dreams of MoND theory.
    • by rochrist (844809)
      When they finish, will they issue the....Europa Report?
  • NASAs most expensive mission over $3B. The highest ranked was a Mars sample return, which would likely involve three rockets. No flagship missions are funded for 2010s.
    • JWST? (Score:4, Informative)

      by oneiros27 (46144) on Monday April 07, 2014 @01:30PM (#46685607) Homepage

      Huh? The most expensive was $3B?

      The James Webb Space Telescope is estimated to be just under $8B to make and launch, then another ~$800M for operations.

      An article from 2011 [discovery.com] suggested that they had already spent $5B (or maybe it was just that they had only planned on it costing $5B at that point). An FAQ from JPL [nasa.gov] states that as of 2011, they had spent $3.5B.

      If they're smart on this Europa mission, they won't design the mission around low TRL [nasa.gov] technology.

      • by mrsquid0 (1335303)

        The original cost for JWST was capped at $700 million in the late 1990s. The cost is currently about 20 times that. There are people on the project who are confident that the final cost will be much higher.

    • Not even close. The International Space Station flying pork machine cost 150 billion, a large part of which was supplied by the USA.
  • I have the feeling at every new news report from or about NASA, that its all about "finding life somewhere else". Of course, there is much more to it and this is only the perception.

    Still, this seems to be the main message/theme/goal. How about bringing life somewhere else?
    How about engineering goals and challenges? Why not "because we want to see if we can"?
    I known these are harder to "sell", but thats also the outreach job of NASA. If they cannot sell the importance of developing new technologies

  • by tekrat (242117) on Monday April 07, 2014 @01:28PM (#46685579) Homepage Journal

    All these worlds are yours
    EXCEPT EUROPA.
    Use them together.
    Use them in peace.

  • it's a space station
  • NASA is stalling. They don't want to fund this mission; the 15 million in the 2015 budget is just to keep the critics happy; they will never fork over the 2b needed for the mission. They would rather keep the billions in Pork going toward politically powerful interests out of Houston for manned missions.
  • Permanent Habitat? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by brunes69 (86786) <slashdot&keirstead,org> on Monday April 07, 2014 @01:56PM (#46685899) Homepage

    It seems a lot more feasible to me to build a permanent off-world habitat on Europa beneath the water, than to build one on Mars. The ice and water would shield you from the radiation normally absorbed by Earth's atmosphere and ionosphere. You can extract oxygen easily from water using known processes. And there is no need to MAKE water since it is everywhere. Furthermore, we are already well-versed in making underwater habitats and the habitat would be easily testable here, so there are fewer unknowns.

    You would not even need to sink the habitat very deep to protect from the radiation, it could achieve neutral boyancy somewhere in the middle of the water column, and then rotate itself in the water to achieve 1G via centripetal forces.

    • by thunrida (950858)
      All fine, but where do you get your energy from? Might be a bit far for solar...
    • by Anonymous Coward

      It would be easier to build underwater colonies on Earth than it would be to create underwater colonies on Europa.

    • by Akido37 (1473009)
      Europa is too far. The Moon or Mars would be better in the short term, especially for trial and error. If something goes wrong, we're far closer and more able to do something and learn from it. A disaster on Europa would have no possibility of rescue from Earth. Long term, of course, Europa makes a lot of sense.
      • Europa is too far. The Moon or Mars would be better in the short term, especially for trial and error. If something goes wrong, we're far closer and more able to do something and learn from it. A disaster on Europa would have no possibility of rescue from Earth

        If something goes wrong on Mars, you're dead. There's no rescue. You're dead anyway within about 24 months from the lower gravity and radiation (or suicide, if sickness doesn't get you first). The same, but to a lesser extent, would apply to the moon.

        • by Ihlosi (895663)
          If something goes wrong on Mars, you're dead. There's no rescue.

          Sudden evacuation might be problematic. But with less serious problems, the lower transit time to Mars vs. Europa might be advantageous. You're dead anyway within about 24 months from the lower gravity and radiation (or suicide, if sickness doesn't get you first).

          There's no experience with humans living in low gravity conditions for more than a few days. We have plenty of zero-g experience, but none that would tell us what a few months

          • Sudden evacuation might be problematic. But with less serious problems, the lower transit time to Mars vs. Europa might be advantageous.

            Evacuate to where? Depending on time, Earth is months to years away in terms of transit time from Mars, even then there is the huge, obvious problem of how to get down from orbit, if you achieve orbit once you arrive. And this is assuming that there is a craft there on Mars, fuelled and maintained.

            But with less serious problems, the lower transit time to Mars vs. Europa might be advantageous.

            At those scales, it doesn't seem to make much difference.

            Radiation is a problem, though. Shielded habitats would be a high priority. Either underground, or possibly by using water (produced on-site) as shielding.

            Unless you land near the poles, there are only trace quantities of water left on Mars in the soil (most of it having sublimated off in the low atmosphere. T

    • What's the water pressure like in the middle of a 100km water column on Europa?
    • Distance.
      - Fuel
      - Time in microgravity
      Radiation exposure enroute (in fairness, a problem for Mars)
      No aerobreaking to land (though perhaps mitigated by lower gravity)
      No idea how to get through ice, or what would happen when you did.
      Contamination.
      Pressure.
      Stopping radiation = no radio.
      Etc.

      When we can have permenant habitats in the deep desert: then we can talk about feasability offworld. The moon is really a no-brainer starting point because of the(relative) ease of short-duration missions and resupply.

    • by DarthVain (724186)

      The gravitational forces and stresses causing immense seismic events caused by orbiting a super giant like Jupiter might be a problem.

      Also the space ice pirates that ply the ocean depths are said to be very territorial and none too hygienic.

    • What is this obsession with sending canned meat to other planets and satellites?

      Conditions under the ice on Europa would be harsher than the harshest prison on earth. It's dark, you would never see a natural light. There is nothing to see but the inside of the craft and possibly the underneath of the ice sheet through a monitor. It would be cramped (The pressure under 20km of ice would be something like 92 earth atmospheres, making the building of such a craft/habitat a challenge). Contact with Earth wou

      • by danbert8 (1024253)

        Spectacular radiation shield? You mean a lot of water? If we are melting water at the surface, it might be feasible to melt water, pump it over the habitat, and allow it to form an ice radiation shield over the habitat. Think like a big radiation blocking igloo... All it takes it a lot of energy, but if we get fusion figured out, you'll have all the fuel you need on Europa!

        • Yes - lot's of things suddenly become trivial if you assume magic.
          • by danbert8 (1024253)

            I'm just saying you wouldn't need to burrow the habitat under the ice to get the radiation shielding from ice... Just like Inuits don't need to dig a hole in the snow to get the insulation from it.

  • by Squidlips (1206004) on Monday April 07, 2014 @02:34PM (#46686323)
    Some expenses: --Space Station: the estimates start at roughly $35 billion — which is what the Government Accountability Office says Congress has appropriated for the station project since 1985 (PDF file) — and rise to $100 billion, which is roughly what the GAO said would be the total cost "to develop, assemble and operate" the station (http://www.nbcnews.com/id/14505278/ns/technology_and_science-space/) --The Space Shuttle Endeavour, the orbiter built to replace the Space Shuttle Challenger, cost approximately $1.7 billion. --Launching the Space Shuttle is about $450 million per mission --The MSL Mars rover ~$1.8 to build and another ~.5b or so to launch and run. --The two MER Mars rovers: $800 million --Second toilet for the Space Station (purchased from the Russians): $17 million. --Amount of money allocated to the Europa Missions in 2015: $15 million.
  • You lost me at "unmanned". Enough said.

  • This was originally canned by Bush in 2005 due pushing all the budget into manned missions with Constellation, which was then canned by Obama pushing stuff back to robotic science missions.

    JIMO was to be a development testbed of a lot of interesting technologies - hence the crazy price tag, but you needed something with a long lasting power supply (nuclear fission reactor) to enable it to stay out that far without relying on solar panels, plus it would investigate the other icy moons on flybys while it navi

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