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Is Jupiter's Bizarre Moon Our Best Hope for Finding Extraterrestrial Life?

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Author Topic: Is Jupiter's Bizarre Moon Our Best Hope for Finding Extraterrestrial Life?  (Read 86 times)
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« on: August 30, 2009, 06:12:56 pm »

NASA’s flagship missions, such as the Hubble Space Telescope or the Cassini probe, are few and far between, and they require years of quiet, behind-the-scenes negotiation before the first component is manufactured. Researchers typically must first agree on a priority, which can entail long cycles of meetings, correspondence, and presentations and often involve a competition. NASA must then win White House approval for such major missions and convince Congress to provide funding. The Europa mission is projected to cost nearly $4 billion, making it by far the most expensive robotic mission in history (in current dollars, at least).

Even by the standards of this slow-motion field of science, Europa’s advocates have been remarkably tenacious. Three times in the past 15 years they put forward proposals, only to see their hopes dashed. At first, even Pappalardo was unconvinced that Europa had a buried ocean, much less one that could support life. “I was a skeptic,” he recalls. Since there is no way to see through Europa’s surface ice, all evidence of an ocean lying beneath it was circumstantial. Pappalardo published a 1999 paper questioning the evaluations by his colleagues of a liquid sea. But newer analyses based on Galileo’s flybys in the late 1990s and early 2000s made him change his tune. Once he became convinced the water was there, he started pushing much harder for a dedicated mission to go back to Europa and find out for sure.
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