NASA pledges to land on Europa in a decade's time

For a little while now, NASA has been hinting at the idea of sending a craft to Jupiter's icy moon Europa. The theory is that this little frozen sphere could harbor life below its crust, but proving that will cost NASA in both dollars and lost sleep. To build a spacecraft capable of surviving the radiation and massive gravitational forces Jupiter hurls into its environs, NASA will have to put in quite a few extra hours.

The idea is to have a mission to Europa ready by 2025, one year after humanity reaches Mars. It might sound like a long way off, but NASA isn't taking any chances with its timeline. This year, for the first time, NASA has expressly asked for funding for a Europa-bound mission: $15 million, to be exact. With even an unmanned rocket bound for Mars costing in the billions, you can rest assured that the request is a drop in what will be a very deep bucket.

Even NASA CFO Beth Robinson has stated that the agency is not sure just what reaching Europa will cost, stating: "Europa is a very challenging mission operating in a really high radiation environment, and there's lots to do to prepare for it." Once the research has been done and the mission is ready to begin, it will likely cost at least $2 billion to get a Europa-bound rocket off the ground.

Then the spacecraft will have to find a way to survive instrument-frying radiation, gravitational forces strong enough to warp Europa itself, and delve through the icy surface of Jupiter's watery moon. It's a daunting mission to say the least, but NASA knows that it's one that could also mean the discovery of alien life in our own solar system. For the knowledge that we are not alone, there's hardly a scientist alive that wouldn't lose a bit of sleep.

NASA (PDF), via Space.com

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