Hey, remember that time the U.S. Congress went over NASA’s head and outright demanded a mission to Europa?
No, I’m serious. The Tea Party’s record on many science-related issues is (to put it gently) a little bit questionable, but when it comes to exobiology, they’re on point. The Obama administration asked for $15 million to go towards long-term Europa mission research—and Congress unexpectedly earmarked $100 million for the mission instead. What this means, as Discovery News’ Irene Klutz explains, is that the planned Europa mission may actually move forward ahead of schedule:
“This mission does not officially exist, though the president’s budget did request $15 million this year to study low-cost concepts (a step in the right direction),” Casey Dreier, advocacy director with California-based Planetary Society, wrote in a column.
“$100 million is a considerable increase,” Dreier wrote. “NASA would be crazy not to use this funding to start a real mission, but that decision likely lies with the Office of Management and Budget, which approves their funding requests. Let’s hope they get the message in time to request a new start in 2016.”
The original plan for a Europa mission pointed to a 2030-ish launch date—but if the $100 million mission budget makes it to the President’s desk, and public response warrants long-term bipartisan support, it’s not completely beyond the realm of possibility that NASA could land a probe on Europa’s icy surface at some point within the next ten years.