Europa is one of the most fascinating places in our solar system. Because it’s believed to have large subsurface oceans beneath its icy exterior, it is one of the best non-Earth candidates for potentially sustaining habitable life. Just last year, the Hubble telescope spotted jets of water shooting from its surface, proving that water is in abundant supply on the moon. In fact, scientists believe that Europa is home to more liquid water than all the oceans on Earth combined.
This is why NASA has made the exploration of Europa a priority, with the agency hoping to land a probe on its surface within the next ten years. To make it there, NASA is seeking experts in all areas of science and technology to come up with ideas on how best to travel to Europa and explore it.
NASA has created a Request for Information (RFI) targeted at scientists and engineers. This RFI is asking for any ideas, concepts, or suggestions that could lead to a Europa mission. The goal is to create a mission for under $1 billion, including all the technology and scientific instruments needed to study Europa in detail. The mission will have five goals: determining the size of Europa’s oceans and how they relate to the moon’s interior, identifying the oceans’ composition, mapping the icy surface features of the moon (in anticipation of future areas to research), and learning more about Europa’s atmosphere and magnetosphere.
There are certain factors to consider with a future Europa mission. To begin with, scientific instruments and spacecraft would need to withstand extreme levels of radiation and strong gravitational forces on their way to Europa and in proximity to Jupiter. Also, considering the nature of certain sturdy Earth bacteria, we also have to prevent accidental contamination of Europa’s oceans with Earth lifeforms. And finally, of course, we have to consider all the dire warnings against attempting a landing on Europa, because everybody knows what happens then.