NASA has just set its sites on an incredible new project deep in space, and it could have a huge impact on huge impact on science.
NASA’s Science Definition Team has just delivered their first report to NASA, and they have one amazing plan cooked up for the near future: a plan to launch a probe to search for life on the icy moon of Europa orbiting Jupiter, about 390 million miles from Earth. The team delivered the report Feb. 7 which details their recommendations for that mission, with a proposed launch date sometime in 2031.
This will be very different from the Europa flyby mission planned in the early 2020s, although that mission will be an important precursor to the probe. Scientists think that Europa is one of only a handful of cosmic bodies in our solar system that has a strong change of hosting life somewhere, even if only at the microbial level.
NASA’s Galileo mission first provided the first evidence of a subterranean ocean on Europa back in the 1990s, but it was never able to collect samples from those oceans, which are believed to be beneath 11 to 15 miles of ice.
“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,” NASA said in a statement. “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 lif , and would provide the foundation for the future robotic exploration of Europa.”