NASA will hold a competition to develop scientific instruments for a potential mission to land on Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa.
The space agency requested any scientific instruments developed during the contest be geared towards searching for alien life or towards assessing the prospects for colonization.
“The possibility of placing a lander on the surface of this intriguing icy moon, touching and exploring a world that might harbor life is at the heart of the Europa lander mission,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a press statement Thursday.
“We want the community to be prepared for this announcement of opportunity, because NASA recognizes the immense amount of work involved in preparing proposals for this potential future exploration,” Zurbuchen said.
NASA began designing and testing its Europa Clipper space probe, which is expected to launch sometime in the early 2020s. The Europa Clipper will also investigate the icy moon’s habitability for human and alien life, but will not land. NASA proposed Europa lander will follow the probe.
Europa may have watery oceans below its ice similar to those of Earth’s, which may be kept warm by complex gravitational interactions and the moon’s core. The oceans may be warm enough to support some type of alien life.
Republican lawmakers asked NASA to add more instruments to the Europa Clipper so it can investigate plumes of water ice ejected from Europa’s surface and deploy several small satellites, which would orbit the moon.
Lawmakers asked NASA to consider a future Europa lander mission in 2016, but the Obama administration wanted to reject the mission and strip down the Europa Clipper to increase funding for Earth sciences, including global warming.
President Barack Obama requested NASA’s mission to Europa receive only $49.6 million in 2017, far less than the $175 million the mission got from Congress in 2016.
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