WASHINGTON, (NASA PR) - In their newest search to see if we are truly alone in the universe, NASA has set its sights to Jupiter's moon Europa.
The concept of sending a spacecraft to orbit Jupiter in order to learn about its most promising moon has been around since 2011, thanks to the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Now it's become more than a theory and is being developed in earnest.
The idea began when NASA's 1990 Galileo mission scoping out Europa showed the possibility of an ocean beneath the moon's frozen crust. According to a NASA press release, "With abundant salt water, a rocky sea floor, and the energy and chemistry provided by tidal heating, Europa may have the ingredients needed to support simple organisms." Throughout the history of space exploration, water has always been the most important indicator of potential life.
The Europa mission plan involves an unmanned spacecraft to be launched sometime in the 2020s. After a journey of several years, the shuttle will fall in orbit around Jupiter. Every two weeks in orbit, the craft will be close enough to Europa to examine its composition.
The press release quoted Joan Salute, Europa's program executive at NASA: “It’s a great day for science. We are thrilled to pass the first major milestone in the lifecycle of a mission that will ultimately inform us on the habitability of Europa.”
Europa is similar in size to Earth's moon and is one of 63 known moons of Jupiter.
To learn more about the mission, go to: NASA Europa Mission