NASA Is Planning to Conquer a New Moon

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NASA europa Jupiter rising February 2016

With the recent sci-fi movie, The Martian, presenting a great opportunity for NASA to promote its plans for future manned missions to Mars, the red planet has hogged the public’s attention of late.  However, NASA recently announced that its future missions won’t just concentrate on Mars.  In fact, there seems to be a particular moon that has grabbed the administration’s attention.

Earth’s moon has already been explored, so that’s old news.  Instead, NASA has been looking for planets which might, theoretically, be able to sustain human life outside of Earth.  The latest orb to have climbed NASA’s list is Europa – a moon orbiting Jupiter.

Europa, though cold and seemingly hostile, has something that is vital to human existence; water.  Underneath the thick layers of ice that cover the moon’s surface there is believed to be a large amount of ocean.  And, in order to see if this might be a moon able to act as a holiday home to astronauts sometime in the future, the administration is planning to swing by Europa sometime in the 2020s.

What NASA Plans for Europa

The administration plans to do dozens of fly-bys next decade in order to gain some solid data with regards to Jupiter’s moon.  However, the most important of these fly-bys will be the first.

Travelling to a moon buried deep in our solar system is slightly more expensive than a drive down to the coast, so funding is going to be very important.  With this in mind, NASA hopes to make such a success of the first fly-by that it can justify devoting more money to further missions.

If NASA ever hopes to actually land on the surface of Europa, it needs to produce some compelling evidence to act as justification.  But, will it be possible to collect such evidence without actually touching down on Europa’s surface?  NASA seems to think so.

The mission, which is yet to be named, will carry some extremely advanced equipment.  Among the nine devices which will be used to gather data are high-res cameras, a heat detector, and, of course, an ice-penetrating radar.

The plan is to use these instruments, during a series of fly-bys spanning 2.5 years, in order to closely examine the surface and subterranean ocean of Europa.  The administration also hopes to search for life-forms, but this will require a life-detector that has not even been designed as yet.

Fortunately, NASA has a decade in which to prepare for the mission.  So, the most important thing at the moment is the ambition.  As for the realisation of the finer details – science will catch up.

Image credit: https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/europa/overview.cfm

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