Join 3,433 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Heigh Ho, to Europa we will go
March 6, 2014 8:47 AM   Subscribe

NASA's 2015 budget request has been released (PDF, OMB Summary), with an interesting mission study : $15 million to look at a unmanned mission to Jupiter's moon Europa. Why Europa? It may have more water than Earth, sloshing around under a thick ice, which makes it a major contender for harboring life. Don't get too excited just yet though. The mission would't launch until around 2025 and would arrive in Jupiter's orbit in the early 2030s. That's a long way off, but a particular US Congressman really wants this mission to happen.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (69 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
So ...are we going to attempt a landing there?
posted by The Whelk at 8:49 AM on March 6 [35 favorites]


The Europan water is under kilometers of ice. Good luck getting to it and then ferrying it back to Terra. But as a Houston resident, I'm all for anything that will create jobs and cash flow around here.
posted by Renoroc at 8:49 AM on March 6


We’re only going to have one chance at this in our lifetimes. We’ve got one shot. I want to make sure you and I are here to see those first tube worms and lobsters on Europa.

I like his style. We need more pro-science legislators.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:52 AM on March 6 [5 favorites]


I've seen the Europa Report, the last thing we need to do is go out there
posted by smackwich at 8:54 AM on March 6 [6 favorites]


Cool.

I love the Mars rovers, but it would be nice to go somewhere else. Titan was exciting but all we (meaning, those of us that only want pretty pictures) got were a couple grainy shots. As much as I want crewed missions I realize those are amazingly expensive.

Europa is the most exciting target in the solar system. I'm not confident we'll find life there, but it's the best chance we have. Building something that could look under that ice won't be easy but it sure would be neat.
posted by bondcliff at 8:54 AM on March 6


Because someone has to say it,

ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS EXCEPT EUROPA ATTEMPT NO LANDING THERE
posted by Slothrup at 8:58 AM on March 6 [18 favorites]


Unfortunately I'm not sure this is "pro-science" legislator, but "more dollars for my constiuents." But otherwise I agree. More this guy, less (WAY LESS) Louis Gohmert.
posted by Big_B at 8:59 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Maybe we can bring some of that water back for California.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:02 AM on March 6


Sky-crane an atomic ice-drill!
posted by blue_beetle at 9:06 AM on March 6


Why do we never talk about going to Venus?
posted by The otter lady at 9:06 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


I want to make sure you and I are here to see those first tube worms and lobsters on Europa.

Somebody call Andrew Zimmern.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:06 AM on March 6


Why do we never talk about going to Venus?

Jesus used to talk about going there, leavin' Levon far behind.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:07 AM on March 6 [8 favorites]


'Dasani' would be an awesome name for a space probe.
posted by mazola at 9:09 AM on March 6


we could melt the europan ice first by igniting jupiter. how much would that cost?
posted by bruce at 9:11 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


I'm impressed. I thought it would take talk about all the hydrocarbons in the solar system to get congressmen from Texas really interested, but it looks like we have an actual science geek on our hands.

Now, about those cash-starved NSF austerity budgets...
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:11 AM on March 6


Good luck getting to it and then ferrying it back to Terra.

Why ferry it back at all? Major difficulties of space living include oxygen and water.

Europa has lots of water, conveniently frozen for transport--cut out a chunk, strap a small rocket onto it, send it where you want it to go. Say, an actual lunar colony for example.

(Yes this is leaving aside the ethical issue of stripmining another planet that hey you never know, might support life. if not today, perhaps one day. Mars and the Moon I'm not too concerned about; they seem to be dead as doornails.)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:12 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


And NASA has said it can afford no more Flagship-class science missions.

That's the most depressing thing Ive read in weeks.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:14 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


fffm, there's a bumper sticker out here in timber country. in big letters, EARTH FIRST! and in small letters underneath, "we'll log the other planets later."
posted by bruce at 9:14 AM on March 6


The otter lady: "Why do we never talk about going to Venus?"

Largely because it's got a surface temp of 460 degrees F and the pressure at the surface is roughly 20 times what it is on earth. The Russians landed Venera 13, and it only lasted 2 hours.
posted by namewithoutwords at 9:14 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


Isaac Jaffe's been excited about this for fifteen years now.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:15 AM on March 6


As namewithoutwords said, Venus is a pretty inhospitable place for any landers. Take a look at the arrival and termination dates for all the landers on the wiki page.
posted by borkencode at 9:16 AM on March 6


I thought it would take talk about all the hydrocarbons in the solar system to get congressmen from Texas really interested, but it looks like we have an actual science geek on our hands.

Titan is also a good destination.
posted by rocketpup at 9:16 AM on March 6


RedOrGreen: "I'm impressed. I thought it would take talk about all the hydrocarbons in the solar system to get congressmen from Texas really interested, but it looks like we have an actual science geek on our hands.

Now, about those cash-starved NSF austerity budgets...
"

Again, just read this guy's wikipedia entry for a start. This guy is a tea partier through and through. This is not a science-geek - it's about pork for his people, and I seriously doubt it's about actually going there. This is a $15 million handout of a total cost estimate of $2 billion for the actual mission.

I'm in favor, hell I'd approve the $2 billion, but let's keep this in perspective.
posted by Big_B at 9:21 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


I'm glad to hear there's someone in congress who seems to be interested in space exploration for its own sake, but kind of wish he were more interested in simply funding what scientists thought were the most worthwhile projects rather than forcing NASA to do his own pet project.
posted by Ickster at 9:22 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


The ESA will be sending the Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer around the same time as NASA's proposed mission. It's set to focus more on Ganymede, with a bit attention paid to Callisto and Europa. So the 2030s could see a nice bit of space exploration.

This mission is more fully developed than NASA's proposal, with the scientific payload recently chosen.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:34 AM on March 6


Largely because it's got a surface temp of 460 degrees F and the pressure at the surface is roughly 20 times what it is on earth. The Russians landed Venera 13, and it only lasted 2 hours

The upper atmosphere of Venus is probably the most hospitable place for humans in the rest of the solar system.

I want to go and live in a zeppelin city there right now basically.
posted by dng at 9:39 AM on March 6 [6 favorites]


Again, just read this guy's wikipedia entry for a start. This guy is a tea partier through and through. This is not a science-geek - it's about pork for his people, and I seriously doubt it's about actually going there. This is a $15 million handout of a total cost estimate of $2 billion for the actual mission.

Actually, I'm guessing this is wrong. First of all, a Europa mission would probably benefit the Science driven NASA Centers (JPL, Goddard) and definitely not JSC (Johnson Space Center). So this mission would not benefit any potential constituents. Furthermore, his district (the Texas 7th) does not contain Johnson Space Center, nor any of the people who work there.

Finally, this isn't his first foray into NASA stuff - he championed a reform of the NASA budgetting process that might actually be beneficial.

I don't want to express approval of or disapproval of his politics, just wanted to provide more info.
posted by spaceviking at 9:48 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


Remember ten years ago when Bush announced we were going to Mars? And then Obama cancelled that plan? We wasted six years of time and money on some Texas politico's dumb-ass fantasy. Constellation remains mostly cancelled, although bits still kick around.

I wish politicians would stop meddling in funding for NASA and other science programs and just let the adults do their work in peace.
posted by Nelson at 9:57 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


I'm sad that it's looking less and less likely for this to happen before I croak. I am holding out hope that we'll find life there. I'm not greedy--I'd be happy even with something small, like an entire advanced civilization of merpeople.
posted by mondo dentro at 9:59 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


The Dawn spacecraft is on its way to the largest asteroid, Ceres, which was recently found to have water! Arrival in a little more than a year.
posted by Schmucko at 10:06 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


Slothrup: "Because someone has to say it,"

Like in the very first comment, you mean?
posted by Chrysostom at 10:12 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


Yeah, parts of the atmosphere of Venus are supposed to be downright balmy.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:17 AM on March 6


Fore more context on Culberson: his voting record, which can be filtered to focus on his votes on science-related bills.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:20 AM on March 6


Renoroc: "The Europan water is under kilometers of ice. Good luck getting to it and then ferrying it back to Terra. "

I know I'm getting old, because I'm apparently the only person who thought of Asimov's The Martian Way when reading this.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:22 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Remember ten years ago when Bush announced we were going to Mars? And then Obama cancelled that plan? We wasted six years of time and money on some Texas politico's dumb-ass fantasy. Constellation remains mostly cancelled, although bits still kick around.

I really don't understand where you were going with that, but keep in mind that, as all things NASA, the President can say all that he wants but it is Congress who holds the power of the purse.

My recollection was that Bush wasn't pointing to Mars directly, but as the end-goal, with the Moon being our first stop. That was Constellation's original mission, one for which it never was sufficiently funded.

We could discuss the folly of Constellation all day, but it was in the works well before GWB announced it in 2004.
posted by tgrundke at 10:24 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


In your face, monolith!
posted by Flunkie at 10:25 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


That's pretty interesting spaceviking, and I'll admit that I jumped to conclusions. JSC isn't technically in his district but saying that no one who works there isn't in the district is a tough sell. Also his top campaign contributors are Lockheed Martin, Honeywell, Boeing, and Northrup Grumman (but not in absurdly large amounts).

Clearly by your handle and history you are probably more in tune with this stuff so I'll back off, but it's hard for me to mesh his non-science political history with wanting to spend money on space.
posted by Big_B at 10:26 AM on March 6


I don't get it. We've been to Europe. (dnrtfa)
posted by Cookiebastard at 10:28 AM on March 6


I really want to know the answer to this before I die.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 11:03 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


I was curious about exactly what a "flagship mission" is supposed connote, and I found out that ii really should be big-F Flagship. From Wikipedia:
The Flagship Program is a series of NASA missions to explore the Solar System. It is the largest and most expensive of three classes of NASA Solar System Programs – the other two being the Discovery Program, which is the cheapest in cost, and the New Frontiers Program, which is medium-cost. According to NASA, the cost of Flagship Program missions ranges between $2 billion and $3 billion.
I didn't see budget numbers for the Discovery Program or the New Frontiers Program. For comparison the Mars Science Laboratory mission (with Curiosity), is a Flagship Mission and about US$2.5 billion
posted by achrise at 11:07 AM on March 6


Largely because [Venus]'s got a surface temp of 460 degrees F

It's even worse than that--the surface temperature averages 460 degrees Celsius, which is right around 860 Fahrenheit, or well above the melting point of lead.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 11:58 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


It's even worse than that--the surface temperature averages 460 degrees Celsius, which is right around 860 Fahrenheit, or well above the melting point of lead.

But below the melting point of copper, so if in some weird time-loop effect Venus turns out to be future Earth, the Statue of Liberty will still be standing and we can look at it and scream "God damn you to hell!" etc.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:02 PM on March 6 [5 favorites]


Astronomers Make the Case for a Mission to Neptune and Uranus: The ice giants are the forgotten sisters of interplanetary exploration. Now astronomers are arguing for an ambitious twin-probe mission with a launch date of 2034
posted by homunculus at 1:34 PM on March 6


Project Orion: Inside the plan to propel spacecraft to other planets by riding the shockwaves of nuclear bombs
posted by homunculus at 1:36 PM on March 6


Discovery is cost cap at $450 billion + launch vehicle. New Frontiers is capped at around 1 billion. Both are competed with different teams vying for selection. This usually results in some pretty awesome missions.

Just so you guys/gals don't think this is a boondoggle, the Europa mission was ranked #2 behind a Mars mission by the United States National Research Council Decadal Survey, which tries to provide an unbiased ranking of what is the most important mission to the science community.

Europa is a hugely interesting place, and something that keeps getting kicked down the road by the Mars exploration program (which is pretty cool too).
posted by spaceviking at 1:49 PM on March 6


I think a robotic mission to Europa would be awesome too. But then the last article notes "Clearly the NASA administration is not overly enthusiastic about the Europa mission. But Congress is." So NASA doesn't want to do push for it but one guy Congress does? I guess Congress is setting the priority? I'm glad that Congressman Culberson is interested in science and wants to fund this mission. But it just seems to all play into the same political dithering that I referenced above with Bush and the Mars folly. Or Obama's about face. Or the SSC, to name another massive science / political failure.

It's just all such a frustrating way to fund important scientific research. Particularly when everyone has visions of Apollo in their eyes. Real science needs 20+ year commitments, not flavors of the month.
posted by Nelson at 3:32 PM on March 6


Hubble spots water spewing up into space from Europa.
posted by newdaddy at 7:31 PM on March 6


So you wouldn't really need to melt through a kilometer of super-cold ice (or actually several.) Just fly throught the plume of a cryovolcano. How hard could that be?
posted by newdaddy at 7:33 PM on March 6


Venus also has no water, no oxygen in the atmosphere, and rains of sulfuric acid. That's in addition to being hot enough to melt lead and having ninety bars of atmospheric pressure on the surface. It looks good at first glance -- it's the closest planet, it's similar in size and gravity, it has an atmosphere, etc. -- but it turns out it's a hellworld. Europa is a much more attractive prospect and probably our best hope of finding extraterrestrial life in our solar system. I would love to see what's there.

I just hope that if we do break through that ice, our probe uses some absolutely bombproof self-sterilization processes.
posted by Scientist at 7:48 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Just to second Scientist, Venus is a shithole. Since it has no magnetic field, all the hydrogen has been swept out of its atmosphere, so good luck making water. I'm all for exploration, but an environment lacking an actual ELEMENT necessary for life is not colonizable.
posted by benzenedream at 8:13 PM on March 6


spaceviking: "Just so you guys/gals don't think this is a boondoggle, the Europa mission was ranked #2 behind a Mars mission by the United States National Research Council Decadal Survey, which tries to provide an unbiased ranking of what is the most important mission to the science community."

Following up on this, if Europa is indeed so important (and as a lay person, it's always fascinated me and I'd love to see us go there), then why does the linked article suggest that NASA isn't as interested in a mission there as Culberson is?
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:05 PM on March 6


NASA is run by administrators, and has its own weird internal politics. I really have no idea why they wouldn't be interested. The science folks are very preoccupied with Mars and the James Webb telescope.
posted by spaceviking at 7:07 AM on March 7


Just speculating, but it's probably true. Having a ginned up Congressman who's insisting on X project is probably a huge annoyance, as the agency struggles to fund everything else it has been mandated to do.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:15 AM on March 7


Here is a good article by Jeff Foust on this topic. I think basically he concludes that a Europa mission is really expensive, and doing it on the cheap may not be worth it. Therefore, the lack of excitement probably stems from the fact that no one knows where the money will come from - and don't want it to come out of their current project.
posted by spaceviking at 10:37 AM on March 7


I could see that, spaceviking. The mission everyone wants to do at Europa involves landing a probe and then having the probe somehow burrow down through a kilometer of ice (probably by melting its way downward, with the bonus effect that if it heats the water enough it'd sterilize the probe too). Then it would have to somehow transmit whatever readings it takes back to Earth. I imagine the lander would have a secondary sensor package which would go down through the ice on a cable, connecting it to the main body of the lander (which would have the radio transmitter).

That's pretty ambitious. They've tried some of this stuff with the frozen lakes in Antarctica, but that doesn't mean it's easy to do (especially in the outer solar system!). It'd be a lot more expensive than most missions, probably at least Mars Rover level of expense if not more.
posted by Scientist at 11:37 AM on March 7


The mission everyone wants to do at Europa involves landing a probe and then having the probe somehow burrow down through a kilometer of ice [...]. Then it would have to somehow transmit whatever readings it takes back to Earth.

That's why the recent paper by Roth et al. in Science (as linked in the press release upthread, "Hubble spots water spewing up into space from Europa") is so politically interesting. In their abstract:

In November and December 2012, the Hubble Space Telescope imaged Europa’s ultraviolet emissions in the search for vapor plume activity. We report statistically significant coincident surpluses of [chemical evidence] above the southern hemisphere in December 2012. These emissions were persistently found in the same area over the 7 hours of the observation, suggesting atmospheric inhomogeneity; they are consistent with two 200-km-high plumes of water vapor with line-of-sight column densities of about 1020 per square meter. Nondetection in November 2012 and in previous HST images from 1999 suggests varying plume activity that might depend on changing surface stresses based on Europa’s orbital phases. The plume was present when Europa was near apocenter and was not detected close to its pericenter, in agreement with tidal modeling predictions.

So if they are right, the mission could be an orbiter that swoops through the plume and samples it chemically. Bonus: no sterilization issues. But the actual plots are not that convincing to me, as a non-specialist. It seems to be right on the hairy edge of instrument capabilities...
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:07 PM on March 7


That would definitely be interesting, and much cheaper. I'd still want to see what was actually down there, but perhaps if anything suggestive could be found in the plumes that would lend support for a future mission to survey the under-ice world within the moon.
posted by Scientist at 8:38 AM on March 8


The Cassini space craft flew through geysers of Saturn's moon Enceladus, despite not being explicitly designed to do so.

That's right, there's several sources of active water in our solar system. The mind boggles!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:04 AM on March 8


First hints of waves on Titan's seas: Reflections on the oceans of Saturn's largest moon suggest long-sought extraterrestrial ripples.
posted by homunculus at 1:18 PM on March 18


We could have found out in a few years, but nooooo, had to send other probe to Mars.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:49 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


I've seen the Europa Report, the last thing we need to do is go out there

Europa Report is a space opera that gets it right

I want to see this.
posted by homunculus at 5:26 PM on March 26


I did. It was extremely overpraised and relentlessly boring. It's plot driven, which winds up sacrificing character development and believability. The found footage aspect doesn't help anything but the promote of melodrama and bad editing.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:35 PM on March 26


> [Europa Report] was extremely overpraised and relentlessly boring. It's plot driven, which winds up sacrificing character development and believability.

Yep, character development was totally missing - I didn't care about any of those people. But I wouldn't even mind that if the plot wasn't full of gaping holes wide enough to drive several trucks through. For example, show me the spacecraft designer who would allow a system where the ONLY WAY to restore your communications system is to cannibalize your LIFE SUPPORT. Seriously, people?

And this gets worked out right at the climactic moment, of course.

After all the online chatter, I expected better.
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:08 AM on March 27


Oh. Well, that's a pity. Thanks for the heads up, I've adjusted my expectations accordingly.
posted by homunculus at 1:34 PM on March 27


Eh, sorry, didn't mean to (slightly) spoil it for you. The movie was okay, honestly - I just expected much better.

This is true, too: "The representations of Jupiter and Europa in this film come directly from real satellite imagery gathered by NASA, and the journey to Europa itself is both realistic and gorgeous."
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:37 PM on March 27


Oh, you guys haven't spoiled anything, but when I finally do see it my expectations won't be so high, and that improves my chances of actually enjoying it.
posted by homunculus at 3:01 PM on March 27


Yeah, for all the talk of how realistic it is, I have to wonder what people are smoking or how far educational standards have slipped. Maybe both. I think the hype hurt my enjoyment, hope it goes better for you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:51 PM on March 27


We've Found A Hidden Ocean On Enceladus That May Harbor Life
posted by homunculus at 4:19 PM on April 3


Editor's summary: Saturn's moon Enceladus has often been the focus of flybys of the Cassini spacecraft. Although small—Enceladus is roughly 10 times smaller than Saturn's largest moon, Titan—Enceladus has shown hints of having a complex internal structure rich in liquid water. Iess et al. used long-range data collected by the Cassini spacecraft to construct a gravity model of Enceladus. The resulting gravity field indicates the presence of a large mass anomaly at its south pole. Calculations of the moment of inertia and hydrostatic equilibrium from the gravity data suggest the presence of a large, regional subsurface ocean 30 to 40 km deep.
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:10 PM on April 4


« Older 11 French Tourist Tips For Visiting America. Tips ...  |  Conducting is the art of direc... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments