NASA has just put forward a proposal to conduct one of the most ambitious and possibly groudbreaking missions in human history.
NASA has big plans for space, and in their first report since being founded, the Science Definition Team has detailed a plan to drill deep into Jupiter’s moon Europa in a bold search for life. The report, delivered Feb. 7, details an incredible plan to launch a probe by 2031 to the moon nearly 400 million miles from Earth and try to collect samples from its vast underground ocean.
Another Europa flyby mission is planned in the early 2020s, but that mission won’t be able to collect samples. That mission will be a significant precursor, however. Scientists have focused on Europa because it is one of just a few cosmic bodies that appear to be good candidates for life in our solar system, and there’s a possibility that some form of microbial life lives underneath the 15 miles of ice the cover the ocean on the icy moon.
NASA’s Galileo mission back in the 1990s was the first to provide some evidence of a subterranean ocean on Europa, but scientists need samples, and they hope that this mission could make that happen.
The statement reads: “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. 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.”