NASA’s plans to explore Europa and other “ocean worlds”

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NASA hosted the “Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop” at their headquarters in Washington, DC. Running from Monday to Wednesday – the purpose of this workshop was to present NASA’s plans for the future of space exploration to the international community. Among them were two presentations that outlined NASA’s plan for the exploration of Jupiter’s moon Europa and other icy moons. NASA hopes to send probes to these moons to investigate the oceans that lie beneath theirs surfaces, which many believe could be home to extra-terrestrial life. 

As was indicated during the course of the presentation, these objectives were threefold. The first would involve searching for biosignatures and signs of life through analyses of Europa’s surface and near-subsurface material. The second would be to conduct in-situ analyses to characterize the composition of non-ice near-subsurface material, and determine the proximity of liquid water and recently-erupted material near the lander’s location. The third and final goal would be to characterize the surface and subsurface properties and what dynamic processes are responsible for shaping them, in support for future exploration missions.

Subsequent exploration would require robotic vehicles and instrumentation capable of accessing the habitable liquid water regions in Europa to enable the study of the ecosystem and organisms.” In other words, if the lander mission detected signs of life within Europa’s ice sheet, and from material churned up from beneath by resurfacing events, then future missions – most likely involving robotic submarines. There is a chance the lander will find no signs of life. If so, the future missions would be tasked with gaining  a better understanding of the fundamental geological and geophysical process on Europa.

 

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