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article imageNASA plans mission to Europa to find alien life

By Sravanth Verma     Feb 3, 2015 in Science
NASA has confirmed that it is planning a mission to Jupiter's moon Europa, thought to possibly have a vast ocean under its icy surface. NASA will be looking for "Europan" life.
NASA's announcement came in the wake of a $500 million hike in budget for 2015, to $18.5 billion. The space agency will now plan out the robotic mission, to be launched in the next decade. NASA chief financial officer David Radzanowski said that the organization has asked for $30 million to conduct preliminary studies on the mission, over and above the $100 million Congress provided last year for the mission. added to NASA’s budget to begin design work for a Europa mission last year.
The Jovian moon is considered a strong candidate for life outside Earth, thanks to a possible sub-surface ocean. Scientists have even detected what they think may be plumes of water vapor venting from the moon's southern pole. NASA administrator Charles Bolden said, "Looking to the future, we're planning a mission to explore Jupiter's fascinating moon Europa, selecting instruments this spring and moving toward the next phase of our work."
There is still a lot of work to be done though. NASA has two concepts at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a Europa mission. One is called the Europa Clipper, which involves a fly-by of Europa as a spacecraft heads into orbit around Jupiter. A more interesting project is the Europa Lander, which involves landing a rover on the surface, to directly test the supposed sub-surface ocean.
The question of whether the ocean exists is still unanswered, but everyone finds Europa fascinating. “For the first time in the history of humanity we have the tools and technology and capability to potentially answer this question, and we know where to go to find it.” NASA’s Kevin Hand said last year. “Jupiter’s ocean world, Europa.” The ocean is estimated to be up to 100 kilometers deep, almost ten times deeper than the Earth's deepest point.
NASA's mission request review to Congress for 2016 said, “For over 15 years NASA has developed concepts to explore Europa and determine if it is habitable based on characteristics of its vast oceans (twice the size of all of Earth’s oceans combined), the ice surface – ocean interface, the chemical composition of the intriguing, irregular brown surface areas, and the current geologic activity providing energy to the system.”
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