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NASA's mission to visit Jupiter's Moon Europe is moving toward the final construction phase

Artist Concept for Europa Clipper.
Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The Jupiter Moon Sampling Mission will go through in its final design and construction phase, according to a NASA release.

Scientists have long wondered if an ice-covered moon can shelter life in an underground liquid water ocean. NASA is committed to a launch date for 2025, though the mission may be ready by 2023. Europe is one of Jupiter's many moons, about the size of the Earth's moon. Planetary scientists have paid much attention to it because it is thought to have an underground ocean and, of course, the presence of water is an important ingredient in life, at least as we know it here on Earth. A mission to fly from the planet and take test materials could provide evidence of what mysteries the planet's ocean holds.

The Clipper Mission of Europe will travel around Jupiter and repeatedly fly near Europe, measuring it with a suit of nine instruments, including cameras, radar, magnetic field detector, heat meter and mass spectrometer for measuring what kind of matter the moon casts into space. Scientists working with the Hubble Space Telescope have already spotted evidence of a Europe that is fluttering with water vapor, and last year scientists realized that the Galileo Jupiter orbiter could have flown precisely through one of these streams. Perhaps these plums have even deposited evidence of life, such as amino acids, on the surface of Europe.

"Confirmation" is part of NASA's project management plan, which divides missions into phases separated by independent reviews. This decision moves the project from its preliminary design phase to its final design and construction phase, after which another review will move it to the assembly, testing and system startup phase. A mission to explore Europe has been on the minds of scientists for decades.

The most recent mission is likely to benefit from the advocacy of recently unleashed Congressman John Culberson, a Republican from the Texas 7th Congressional District. Landing on the surface of Europe is planned to be closely monitored by Clipper's heels, but plans are delayed by 2030, Science reports.

This latest announcement is an exciting step forward for those who wonder if there is an extraterrestrial life here in our own solar system. Let's hope it comes out of the ground.

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