back to article NASA boffins release Europa mission wish list

NASA boffins have revealed their wish list for a landing on Europa, the icy moon of Jupiter that looks a very promising candidate to host life and which was last April made a priority for future exploration by NASA. Available here, the document says any visit to Europa should figure out if the moon's ocean is habitable, by …

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The Galileo probe is currently a thin spread of titanium vapour lightly sprinkled over the hundred-kilometre cloud deck of Jupiter; is the article very old, or should it be referring to ESA's JUICE mission?

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Curiosity?

Maybe this is overly ambitious but is there any value in sending a duplicate of curiosity there? Presumably much bigger mass requirements but wonder if they would be offset by the use of a known design. I also assume that much of Curiosity's existing hardware has duplicates/spares here on earth from testing and backup purposes.

Plus the appearance of a nuclear powered laser armed space tank in Jupiter space might nudge the monoliths into making an appearance - they are running late. ;)

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Boffin

Re: Curiosity?

It's a nice idea, but you normally dont want to send any sort of rover to a place until you know what the surface is going to be like (if its all deep gullys and trenches, a rover is pretty much useless). I would have thought first call is a dedicated orbiter with a high definition stereo camera, so you can pick a good landing spot.

THEN something like Curiosity would be a good idea. But usually landers are easier and lighter (and cheaper to build) than rovers, and so for a first touchdown a stationary lander is probably not a bad idea.

Oh and I have some insight into the problems involved in the planetary protection of this sort of mission (im working on a different Mars mission right now) and probably about 20% of the entire costs of the program are on avoiding contaminating your hardware. And thats at the lower level of a Class 4a project (landing on another planet in an area not deemed a high risk for contamination from earth lifeforms). Europa is considered a very high risk location (liquid water interior, may be at "nice temperatures for spore forming microbes"), so you're looking at a ridiculous level of cleanliness (probably 4c). To give you an idea of what those levels mean - 4a means you cannot have more then 300 spores per m² of surface on your hardware and 300,000 spores total on the entire spacecraft (whichever value is lower). To put that in context, right now you have 300,000,000 bacteria on your finger tip. I dont want to even think about what spore count level you need for a 4c mission (probably no more than 3 spores per m²!)

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Re: Curiosity?

A good idea but complicated by the environmental considerations.

An example. The two Voyager probes to the outer planets (and beyond) were based on the design of the highly successful Mariner series of probes used in the sixties, in fact the the Voyagers were once known as Mariner Jupiter. The main similarities were the basic spacecraft frame, then the changes started to make the craft so different that they were given a new name. The main differences were because of the fact that the craft needed to operate so far away from the Earth and the Sun and the Jovian radiation environment.

The design of Curiosity could be used as a starting point but would have to be altered substantially for the Jovian/Europan environment. Cold would be a major problem, for example. Mars may be a cold place but the temperature out at Jupiter is extreeme by Martian standards. The Jovian radiation environment, as mentioned in the article, is incredibly severe, any kit built for Mars would have to be rebuilt to withstand this radiation.

Hope this helps.

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Alien

Re: Curiosity?

perhaps you can explain the rationale behind our obsession with cleanliness on other worlds. The way I've always seen it is that the ultimate goal of space travel is to put people on other worlds.

When people get to mars, europa etc they are going to hopefully live, breed and die there and do all of the other dirty bacteria ridden things us fleshy biobags do.

Eventually it would even be nice to do some form of modification to these worlds to make then slightly more inhabitable. We've been doing this on earth for millennia chopping down the forest that covered Europe to make way for farming etc. Releasing bacteria to help achieve this seems the most likely course.

With this goal in mind it seems that contamination is an inevitable side effect of our exploration. if that is the case then why spend such a huge quantity of money protecting these places for the limited few years they have left before we set foot on them. For me the question "can life survive on these worlds" is far more important than "has life started already"

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Boffin

Re: Curiosity?

Europa is not particularly hospitable for people to live on. But there might just possibly be existing life there.

If there is such life it may be evolved from spores drifting from Earth. Or it may be an entirely separate evolution.

We have one single example of life. Everything on Earth evolved from the last universal ancestor.

Have you the slightest comprehension of the value to science of a second, independently arisen example of life, uncontaminated by whatever bugs can hitch a ride on spacecraft? We MUST NOT risk contaminating or destroying it.

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Re: Curiosity?

Why wait until Europan Tentacular Hellglobs evolve build their own space probes and investigate us? Strike now, and strike hard!

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Anonymous Coward

"the ultimate goal of space travel is to put people on other worlds."

Yeah right. Shareholder Value rulez.

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Re: Curiosity?

Hi Ian,

The rationale is actually quite simple - the plan is to protect other planets so that future science missions have as pristine an environment to work on as possible.

Planetary Protection is not designed to be a tree hugging greenie ideal that were protecting the other planets from us nasty humans or any of that bollocks - it is purely down to protecting the potential of future science missions.

If for example, the early missions to Mars hadnt been kept as clean as possible. They wouldnt have been able to detect the life they brought to Mars, but a later mission coming along might have found those microbes and we would have thought that was proof of life and got our theories very wrong. But because they were very clean we can now say with some certainty that if we discover life on Mars, we are actually discovering Martian life and not transported Earth life.

I hope that explains things a bit... =)

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There's a time and a place (was: Re: Curiosity?)

The thing is that if we find bacteria on Mars or Europa, we want to be able to tell if they're from Earth or not.

Contaminating those planets at this point in time would be enormously stupid, as it might jeopardize our ability to investigate an independent origin of Life.

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Unhappy

NSA release European wish list....

....was what I read at a glance, then after I read the article, I sadly realized that the NASA wish list could easily be met with a fraction of the funds from the former.

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Re: NSA release European wish list....

So on spot

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Alert

HAL...

All these worlds are yours except Europa attempt no landing there.

-_-

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Re: HAL...

Just watched 2001 and 2010 again over the last couple of evenings.

Excellent stuff.

(But they did leave me wanting more... specifically, Rendezvous with Rama!)

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Re: HAL...

Just watched 2001 and 2010 again over the last couple of evenings. Excellent stuff.

Take the time to read the books. They are even better than the films. (and don't forget to carry on and read 2061 & 3001)

But they did leave me wanting more... specifically, Rendezvous with Rama!

The first in the Rama series was good. The rest were, unfortunately, dire.

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Re: HAL...

"Take the time to read the books."

I have done.

Granted, it's been a very long time, but I have done.

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Re: HAL...

"The first in the Rama series was good. The rest were, unfortunately, dire."

I enjoyed them a lot. The series as a whole is one of my favorites. The first is by far the best but I like the plot and scope of the others too.

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Europa Report

Slightly off-topic, but if you like well-made, "realistic" SciFi flicks, give Europa Report a try:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2051879/

I quite enjoyed it.

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That lander package is missing one important item...

And that is a small submersible robot that can melt its way through the ice crust.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: That lander package is missing one important item...

If the lander slows down to the surface with the help of fuel rockets, the lander itself could become that submersible...

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Raman

I misread that as ramen, and thought they were looking for life emanating from His Noodly Appendage.

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Juno has a remarkably pathetic camera (2-megapixel, 7.4-micron pixels, 11mm focal length, 58-degree FOV - better than most smartphone back-cameras but not by much); it's specced for 15-kilometre resolution at the 4300km closest approach of Juno to Jupiter, and has not the slightest chance of getting near enough to Europa to achieve six-metre resolution,

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I can knock

up a prototype probe in Kerbal Space Program in about 30 minutes... that should be good enough

Things you never hear at NASA

#67 :" Well.. it worked in KSP"

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Europe

I misread the title and considered what part of Europe NASA would be considering for a mission.

Given how hostile the terrain there is now for Americans, a probe might be a good method to discover potential habitable sites for American visitors.

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Go

Re: Europe

And the local inhabitants are probably used to the idea of an American nuclear-powered tank driving down their street....

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Happy

Re: Europe

Terrain hostile to Americans? Do you mean Europe or Europa, or both?

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Bah!

left off list:

Flag Planter (Duh! How else will we know we were there?)

Low muzzle velocity auto-load mirror dispersal mortar c/w wide dispersal airburst loads.

Autonomous Laser-Fitted Tracked telepresence rovers (2).

Rovers+lasers+mirrors=Pong Tanks on Europa. Money well spent.

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Mushroom

This is an Ocean World we're planning to invade...

...we should be sending tripods with heat rays. Or fricking sharks with laser beams...

And then we want an orbiting pump to take all their water. I've seen the films. I know how it's done...

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The thing with Europa is that it's the easiest place outside Earth to find life.

The ice of Europa is churning, due to the immense tidal effects, which means that if there are, say, bacteria living in the sea ten kilometers under the surface, _one can find their frozen "fossils" on the surface_.

There' s no need to drill, the churn will bring them to the surface.

Yet there is no mention of looking for life in this proposal.

People think NASA is always looking for life on Mars and other places, but to date there is only one single mission which has done so: the Viking landers in the 1970's. No other NASA mission has even attempted to find life, and this looks like it's following in that proud tradition.

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