NASA Reveals a Spacecraft that is Headed Toward Jupiter’s Potentially Habitable Moon

In order to determine whether a moon of Jupiter has the necessary circumstances for life to exist there, NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft is traveling there.
In an effort to further humanity’s search for extraterrestrial life, US space scientists unveiled the interplanetary probe that NASA intends to deploy to one of Jupiter’s cold moons on Thursday.

The Clipper spacecraft is scheduled to launch in October in the direction of Europa, one of the many moons circling the largest planet in our solar system and the closest location in our galaxy that may provide a suitable home for life.

“One of the fundamental questions that NASA wants to understand is, are we alone in the cosmos?” The project scientist for the mission, Bob Pappalardo, told AFP.

“If we were to find the conditions for life, and then someday actually find life in a place like Europa, then that would say in our own solar system there are two examples of life: Earth and Europa.”

“That would be huge for understanding how common life might be throughout the universe.”

Currently, the $5 billion probe is housed in a “clean room” at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, which is a closed space that is only accessible by those with head-to-toe coverings.

In order to prevent bringing microorganisms from Earth to Europa, measures are being taken to guarantee that the probe is devoid of impurities.

Clipper is scheduled to launch on a Space X Falcon Heavy rocket following transportation to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. The journey will take more than five years, and it will include a pass by Mars to increase speed.

It is expected to be in orbit around Jupiter and Europa in 2031, when it will start a thorough investigation of the moon that scientists think is covered with frozen water.

“We have instruments like cameras, and spectrometers, a magnetometer and a radar that can… penetrate right through ice, bounce off liquid water and back to the surface to tell us how thick is the ice and where is liquid water located,” Pappalardo stated.

The managers of the mission do not anticipate seeing little green men swimming in the water; in fact, they are simply searching for environments that might support life, not life itself.

Extreme settings on Earth, such as the light-starved geothermal vents found deep under the polar ice cap, have taught scientists that microscopic organisms can survive practically anyplace.

Furthermore, conditions on Europa, a moon that is nearly as big as Earth, might offer a habitat akin to Earth’s, raising the exciting possibility that we are not alone in the solar system.

“If moons around planets far away from stars could hold life, then the number of opportunities around the solar system, around the universe, where life could take hold, I think goes up dramatically,” stated Jordan Evans, project manager for the Europa Clipper mission.

The science is challenging because the instruments, which will get the equivalent of 100,000 chest X-rays per trip around the moon, could be damaged by the strong radiation environment surrounding Europa.

Due to the great distances involved, it will take 45 minutes for Mission Control to receive the signal that Clipper transmits back with its data.

Additionally, Evans stated that maintaining Clipper’s electricity will be a significant task despite its enormous solar array, which unfolds once in orbit.

“Right after launch, (the solar panels are) putting out 23,000 watts… but when we’re out at Jupiter, so far away from the sun, they’re only putting out 700 watts,” he explained.

“Near Earth, they could power 20 houses continuously. And when we’re at Jupiter, just a few light bulbs and some small appliances.”

The mission is scheduled to terminate in 2034, by which time Clipper will probably have reached the end of its useful life. Planning for the mission started in the late 1990s.

The largest moon of Jupiter will be the probe’s last stop, according to deputy project manager Tim Larson.

“After we’re done with the science mission, the way we end is by crashing into one of the other bodies in the Jovian system to dispose of the spacecraft,” he stated.

“Right now, the plan is to go into Ganymede.”