Yesterday was a triumphant day for NASA and U.S. space exploration as the agency held their “State of NASA” event to highlight all the progress that has been made until now (watch video below) and President Obama’s proposed U.S. fiscal budget for 2016 allocated a whopping $18.5 billion to the space agency.
The Internet is buzzing about one added $30 million line item in particular: “For the first time, the budget supports the formulation and development of a Europa Mission, allowing NASA to begin project formulation, Phase A… providing double the amount of funding as last year’s request to proceed with pre-formulation activities,” NASA wrote in their budget summary.
Europa is one of Jupiter’s 63 known moons, measures a diameter of roughly 1,940 miles (a little smaller than our moon), and most importantly is the destination within the solar system most likely to harbor current life.
Based on data gathered through spacecraft observations and 15 years of preparing Europa Mission concepts, scientists believe that this moon might hold 2-3 times more liquid water than our very own Earth – and water is the basis for all life.
“The combination of those data sets leads us to a high degree of confidence that this global liquid water H2O ocean is there today and it’s been there for much of the history of the solar system,” says Kevin Hand, astrobiologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Since this moon is orbiting Jupiter, some might assume that the water would be frozen due to the drastically colder environment far away from our sun. However, the latest theories confirm that the strong tidal tug Europa experiences from orbiting Jupiter could convert into mechanical energy and friction, hence heat, which allows the water to stay liquid under the outer ice layers.
This video provided by NASA will give you a much better understanding of Europa’s mystery and why it makes for such a significant object to be explored:
NASA applauded the White House for its new financial commitment since until now, the space agency didn’t have the funds to build robotic technology that would enable exploration beneath Europa’s ice layers, which is now scheduled for a mid-2020s launch.
“Over the next two years, Space Technology will execute several in-space demonstrations including: a deep space atomic clock for advanced navigation- particularly applicable to understanding Europa’s under-ice liquid water oceans, green propellant and four small spacecraft demonstrations of pioneering new technologies,” NASA explained.
“Most notably, NASA study teams further developed the Europa fly-by mission concept, determining that NASA could accomplish over 80 percent of the science that a Europa Orbiter would achieve for about 50 percent of the cost with a mission that stays in Jupiter orbit and conducts many focused flybys of Europa,“ NASA explains about a mission similar to the Europa Clipper, which would make 45 fly-bys of the Jupiter moon over the course of 3.5 years and launch in 2022.
Now it’s up to Congress to approve the final budget, but NASA is hopeful as, last year, a $100 million increase for Europa efforts was approved in addition to the $30 million Obama initially proposed.
Other Missions that would move forward under the new budget include:
- $1.2 billion for a Commercial Crew program, a combination of contracts with Boeing and SpaceX to return launch capability to the U.S. after having had to rely on Russia to take U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station in the years after NASA’s space shuttle had been retired (since 2011)
- the James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled for a 2018 launch
- the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, which will launch in 2016, travel to a near-Earth asteroid in 2018, and be the first US mission to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth
- InSight (launching in 2016) and Mars 2020 are future Mars lander missions
- several major missions to advance our understanding of the Sun and its impact on the Earth, including Magnetospheric Multiscale, Solar Probe Plus, and Solar Orbiter Collaboration
- the ICON (Ionospheric Connection Explorer) mission to study the connection between the Earth’s weather and space weather
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