Jupiter's Moon Europa Newest Destination for NASA?

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If you thought that Mars was the beginning and end of NASA's exploration aspirations, you were wrong. It appears the "Red Planet" may have just been a warm-up.

Now, NASA is moving towards an ambitious mission to the Jupiter moon Europa.

Europa would be a significant destination for a few reasons.

First, despite how cold it is on the moon, it is unique in that it is considered the best location in our solar system for supporting life.

This is of course the theory. Going to Europa could help answer questions about how and why life forms on certain planets. We may even learn whether or not the moon did in fact have life at some point. Who knows? This may be the first step towards a manned mission to Europa akin to what is being attempted with Mars.

NASA announced on March 4th that it hopes to launch a mission to Europa by 2025.

NASA chief financial officer Beth Robinson explained to reporters on Tuesday that Europa " is a very challenging mission operating in a really high radiation environment." Because of the environment and the moon's distance from Earth, Robinson emphasized that "there's lots to do to prepare" for the formidable mission.

The White House's 2015 budget, which was released the same day as the NASA announcement, has allocated $15 million in funds towards making the mission to Europa a reality.

The money will pay for the early planning phase of the trip. It's not yet known what the total cost requirement will be should serious preparations get underway.

Said Robinson, "People have asked about the total size [of the possible mission], and we're frankly just not sure at this point." She says they intend to reach out to members of the scientific community in order to more accurately plan the scope of the mission.

One idea involved sending a probe called the "Europa Clipper" to the Jupiter moon. It would orbit Jupiter and also fly by Europa multiple times, sending back information about the water that erupts from the satellite's surface.

In order to make the Europa Clipper happen, it would take roughly $2 billion dollars. The cost of getting into space has always made for a great deal of skepticism, especially coming out of a recession.

However, it's possible that there are less expensive alternatives that will get NASA to Europa at some point. For now, it's a step through a door that could lead to infinite possibilities.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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