Europa: To Land or Not to Land?

NASA has big plans for Europa. It is, after all, Jupiter’s most interesting moon.

Ag04 Europa Blush

But the details of these big plans have been in a state of flux for a while. The mission would undoubtedly include an orbiter, but should it orbit Europa or Jupiter? What about also sending a lander or rover? Or maybe a submarine? Europa does have an ocean somewhere beneath its icy shell.

Okay, there’s no way Congress would pay for all that, so NASA decided to scale down its ambitions. In other words, the mission was descoped. No landers, no rovers, and definitely no submarines. Also, the orbiter would orbit Jupiter. Entering orbit of Jupiter requires less delta-v, and therefore less fuel, than trying to enter orbit of any specific Jovian moon.

But even after scaling everything down, this Europa mission would still come with a hefty price tag. Congress held hearings. This couldn’t go well. So what happened?

Congress told NASA to put the lander back in the mission plan and put up money to pay for it.

Mr06 Europa 1

That’s right. Congress suggested—no, commanded—that NASA include a lander as part of its Europa Clipper mission and provided money to pay for it. I guess you could say this mission was de-descoped. Or maybe it was rescoped.

Now I’m not naïve enough to think that Congress has suddenly developed a deep appreciation for planetary science. It’s more likely this lander will be built by some company that donated generously to someone’s campaign, or maybe it will be built within some influential congress-person’s district.

I’m not a political blogger, so I don’t want to get into that. What I do want to say is this: we’re going to Europa, baby!

Mr06 Europa 2


We’re Going to Europa from SciShow Space.

A Lander for NASA’s Europa Mission from The Planetary Society.

Congress: NASA Must Not Only Go to Europa, It Must Land from Ars Technica. This last link is particular interesting because it suggests that NASA doesn’t really want to go to Europa at all, but Congress is forcing them to do it.

5 thoughts on “Europa: To Land or Not to Land?

  1. I don’t doubt that some in Congress were swayed by the lure of contracts, but I wouldn’t be too sure that there aren’t at least a portion who have heard of Europa and want to see if life is there. Politicians are people too, and at least some of the ones in Congress must have their imagination fired up by Europa’s prospects.

    I’ve noted before that the space age needs its own version of the “Age of Discovery’s” spice trade. But that assumes we don’t find life somewhere. If we do, I think NASA would see its funding go up substantially, at least in relation to exploring where that life was found.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right, of course. I’ve read about plenty of space nerds making it into Congress. Even so, I’m surprised by the extent to which they’re expanding Europa Clipper. It sounded like the mission was on its last legs, and I thought it was going to get canned in favor of another Mars rover.

      Liked by 1 person

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