Europa is a moon of Jupiter that might have a liquid water ocean under its thick layer of ice and rock. This has intrigued astronomy enthusiasts and alien hunters alike for years. Now NASA has proposed a mission to land a scientific probe on Europa.
The lander mission currently consist of a 264-page report with the obvious title of Europa Lander Mission, which contains proposed scientific objectives and a design for the lander. If approved, this mission could be launched as early as 2024. This is an answer to Congress’ 2016 bill stipulating NASA’s budget, which includes a line item calling for work on a Europa lander.
Europa Considered A Top Target for the Search for Life
The report called Europa “a prime target” for NASA’s exploration goals, which includes determining the habitability of worlds other than Earth and the possibility of finding life on worlds like Europa that may have the conditions necessary to support it.
The authors of the report expressly stated, “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.”
If successful, this would be the first time that any space agency has landed a probe on Europa to explore beneath the surface. That alone would enable scientists to confirm their suspicion that a liquid ocean that may be capable of supporting life exists under the icy surface, as current data suggests.
Could Europa Be Colonized?
Europa is currently considered one of several candidate worlds that could be colonized because it may contain many of the elements and conditions needed to support life. Besides H2O, Europa contains hydrogen peroxide, which can be used to produce oxygen, and clays that could be used to support agriculture and manufacturing.
That’s if humans are willing to live near Jupiter’s enormous dynamo effect and the magnetosphere that comes with it. The report for the Europa lander acknowledged the problem, saying that the challenges include protecting the electronics from electromagnetic interference.
If the plan is approved, the lander mission will be preceded by flyby missions supported by NASA and ESA in 2022. The ESA mission focuses more on Ganymede but may get some good images and data from Europa. The 2024 Europa landing team could use the data gained to refine plans including the choice of landing site.