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Projects: Europa Mission Campaign

Campaign Update: 2007 Budget Proposal

By Louis Friedman
December 14, 2005

In the recently passed NASA Appropriations bill, the US Congress directed NASA to begin work on a Europa orbiter and to make a request for a new start for a Europa mission project in fiscal year 2007. This was welcome news to NASA, who lost their focus on Europa when the nuclear propelled Jupiter Icy Moon Orbiter mission was cancelled last spring.

But now word has it that there will be no Europa proposal in the 2007 budget proposal that will be made to Congress early next year. The Washington Aerospace Briefing, a respected newsletter publication of Space News, is reporting that the Administration’s Office of Management and Budget is denying the Europa request on budget grounds.

The Planetary Society will fight for a Europa mission. Whether or not is in the budget request, we will lobby in Congress for its inclusion in the NASA program. Our Explore Europa Campaign is already in full swing. Having Congress insert funds in the ’06 budget was a good start, but we need to ensure support in 2007 and beyond.

Europa is not an easy target to get to. It requires a tremendous amount of propulsion to orbit or land in the Jupiter system. Europa also exists in the midst of Jupiter’s high radiation environment, so all instruments require extra protection to work there. Both a big rocket and a big spacecraft are required, and the mission will not be cheap.

With the exception of Mars, Jupiter’s moon Europa is the most likely candidate of all the known planets (and moons) for life. There is strong  evidence of a large ocean of liquid water under the Europan ice, and, where there’s water, life may exist.

A Europa orbiter to study the surface and measure properties related to the moon’s interior would give us extremely valuable information about the water and other life-related characteristics. But the real goal is to get on that icy surface and dig or drill below, away from the harsh radiation environment. Adding a lander to the already big orbiter mission is not easy, so The Planetary Society is advocating this be undertaken as an international mission – a cooperative effort similar to the Cassini-Huygens mission to Titan. Our advocacy goes beyond the US – it extends to Europe and Russia, and perhaps to other spacefaring countries – to help develop a Europa ocean explorer.