NASA is looking for ideas from the top scientists in the world that could help their endeavors in a potentially historic mission to Europa, a moon of Jupiter. Beneath its icy crust, there may be a staggering amount of water, and scientists have hypothesized that Europa might support life. NASA has called out for any proposals for scientific instruments to be used on a mission for studying this moon like it has never been studied before.
Evidence has been found indicating that Europa has giant waterspouts that reach heights greater than Mount Everest. Because of this, NASA thinks that it is possible Europa holds a habitable ocean containing a lot more water than the total of all of the oceans on Earth. NASA is looking for scientific instruments to be designed that can help with searching for any life that Europa may hold. Winning designs will be selected in 2015 and are going to be built for a mission to explore Europa. There is a deadline of October 17 to submit a proposal.
The possibility that Europa has life on it motivates the efforts of engineers and scientists, according to John Grunsfeld, the associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate of NASA. He went on to say that the contest is going to select instruments which could provide NASA with a great leap to find out whether there is other life in our universe.
Every decade, the United States National Research Council, one of the nonprofit organizations that advise the government, puts out a report. This report recommends a strategy for planetary exploration for the National Science Foundation and NASA. The most current reports, which covers from the years 2013 – 2022, ranks Europa exploration as one of the top priorities. That is why NASA is looking to get help from scientists regarding their instrument ideas so that the Europa mission can be accomplished.
Based on this report, this future mission should focus on looking closely at the ocean which scientists believe is below the icy surface. It is also recommended that they characterize the icy crust and search for any liquid water below its surface. This will include determining the chemistry and composition of the surface, examining the features of the surface, determining the landing areas for missions in the future, and understanding the magnetosphere’s purpose. This is the magnetic field which surrounds Europa.
According to officials at NASA, any instrument proposals need to have a focus on one or more of the exploration goals. This announcement calls for the instruments that are designed for a craft that is going to orbit Europa or that will complete a series of flybys, because the astronauts are not equipped with the data to figure out the safe landing areas on Europa’s icy surface.
One of the challenges with this kind of mission is the tremendous levels of radiation which surround Jupiter. Any instruments and spacecraft will need to be able to handle this radiation. A mission in the future will also need to be extra cautionary that things which live on Earth are not introduced into Europa’s ocean.
NASA has created a contest of sorts while they are looking for the ideas from the scientists in order to help their Europa mission. In April of 2015, NASA will choose approximately 20 proposals. There will be $25 million awarded by NASA to the contestants so that they are able to advance their instruments’ designs further. These 20 reports are going to be reviewed and then officials from NASA will choose eight winners. The instruments which win will be built by NASA and then sent on to Europa. NASA is currently designing this mission to cost under $1 billion, yet attain the greatest number of goals of exploration as they possibly can.
By Sharon Hendricks