While much of the world's intra-solar-system efforts at the moment might be focused on our closest buddy planet, Mars, not all scientists, researchers and NASA personnel think that's where our focus should be. Some of them believe that Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, could be far and beyond, our best chance of discovering non-human life and there's already a think tank of people wanting to recruit you and anyone else to help them find out if they're right.
With Objective Europa, the loose collective of, “architects, designers, former NASA-specialists, scientists and dreamers,” wants to figure out if it would be possible to send a crewed, one way mission to the icy moon, drill down through its thick surface and look for liquid water underneath. The belief, is that just in the same way as Earth's sub-Arctic ice, we'll find life there.
Of course there's a lot to figure out before that would ever be possible. Can humans survive a trip that far? Can food be preserved long enough for the multiple years it might take to get there? Can a craft be landed safely and then drill through what could be kilometres of ice? Objective Europa is looking to answer these questions, with its crowd research.
It's thought Europa's liquid water layer may contain our best chance of finding extra-terrestrial life in our solar system
And you can be part of it. The project is currently recruiting volunteers to take part in what it describes as “Phase 1,” which is pure brain storming. This is the theory phase, where it wants to see as many people from different walks of life join up, meaning many different aspects of the trip's necessary research and development, can be completed simultaneously by people around the world. There's a lot of topics waiting to be “claimed,” too. Some include:
- Overall mission architecture concept – general ideas and concepts of the mission launcher, orbit assembly, gravity assisted trajectories and more.
- Launch vehicle studies – Research on current and potential future launch vehicles.
- Power systems – Sttrategies for power generation and distribution in space and on Europa.
- Risk – Even in space, there's risk assessment.
- General health issues of human crew.
- Radiation mitigation.
- Crop growth on the trip there and on Europa.
- Potential Europan landing site.
- Ice crust research – how thick is it? How could it be reliably drilled through.
There's loads and loads of topics that need to be covered, which is why these sorts of trips take a long time to complete – unless you're in the middle of a cold war space race – but the whole thing is going to need more than just research volunteers. In the future, when much of this first phase is complete, prototyping will take place, which is going to need financial backing. From there, perhaps phase three or four will mean the actual construction of a space craft, designed to travel further than any other manned vessel humans have ever put together.
Technology like DepthX might be used for the final trip
That said, the people behind Objective Europa aren't ruling out unmanned missions, as sending a probe through the icy vacuum of space is a lot easier than sending a handful of even the world's greatest astronauts, since they require sleeping quarters, food, air and much more to survive. However, one popular theory on the official forums at the moment, suggests that landing on nearby (relatively) Jupiter moon, Calisto and piloting an unmanned drone/probe from there, could be the best bet, as the radiation levels are far lower there than on Europa. This would therefore give whoever was brave/foolish enough to take on such a mission, much more of a chance of surviving long enough to find something worthwhile on that icy celestial body.
KitGuru Says: The idea for this project sounds great – it's just a shame a tech author with a scientifically questionable book has that much to offer this project. What about the rest of you though? Do you have any engineering of scientific expertise that might help send booted feet to Europa some time in the future?