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The White House Wants to Go to Europa

Earlier this week the White House made public its budget requests for 2016. It’s a little bit of Washington kabuki—Congress always adjusts the budget one way or the other. But buried inside the $18.5 billion budget request for NASA was an interesting tidbit: $30 million for a mission to the Jovian moon Europa, every space nerd’s favorite target in the search for extraterrestrial life. In other words, if this new funding goes through, it’ll mean that NASA is finally, officially onboard with a mission to the ice-crusted world where alien monoliths took over in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010. In other other words: Let’s go to Europa! “This is a big deal,” says Casey Dreier, the director of advocacy at the Planetary Society, which has been lobbying for this mission for more than 15 years. “This budget basically fills in the missing piece that will enable this mission to go forward.” The new budget request also says that the White House plans to ask for even more money in the next few years, and because the mission is now an official project, says Dreier, civil servants can work on it and NASA can start making long-term contracts for further planning. So what would the mission look like? Europa’s icy shell gives it the smoothest surface of any world in the solar system. But shifting cracks and other evidence suggest that that below that frozen surface lies an ocean—a watery one. And where there’s water, life may follow. Researchers have wanted to get there for decades—the current best idea for how is a 15-year-old concept called the Europa Clipper. “What we’ve been looking at is a multiple flyby mission,” says Bob Pappalardo, the mission’s project scientist. Under the current plan, a spacecraft will orbit Jupiter, not Europa—but it’ll zip past the moon 45 times in three years—venturing as close as 16 miles to the surface every couple of weeks. via WIRED.

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