Enter Objective Europa. A group headed by the founder of Copenhagen Suborbitals, Kristian von Bengtson, is contemplating what challenges sending astronauts to Europe – one of Jupiter’s moons, might provide. So far, there is a catch. There is no plan for a return trip.
Jupiter has 67 confirmed moons. Europa is one of its Galilean moons (main moons). Europa is slightly smaller than our moon and believed to be made up of primarily silicate rock with an iron core. Its atmosphere is composed primarily of oxygen and its surface is made of ice. The smoothness of it suggests that beneath the ice is a water ocean. Perhaps here ET exists, with fins.
Europa sounds wonderful, right? Like a Switzerland in space. There are a few more details. Europa is within Jupiter’s radiation belt (10x as strong as Earth’s Van Allen radiation belt). Any astronaut would be exposed to 540 rem of radiation a day, a fatal dose. (FYI – once they venture below the ice, they will be protected.) Add to that the gravity is similar to our own moon and so there would be muscle & bone degradation and loss. BUT if this project manages to get past that then there are very cool things to investigate and possibly even cooler ways to do it!
Because the ice is approximately 62 miles thick that presents the first challenge they will encounter. After traveling for around 600 days, they would probably try locate one of the areas of thinner ice as one area is believed to be 19 miles thick.
Next is the ocean. It is believed to have a salty liquid water ocean. There a plenty of reasons they believe it is an ocean – one being that the crust has undergone a shift which is proof of not being attached solidly to the mantle. But don’t worry, they have plenty more – they wuldn’t consider sending someone that far on a whim.
Europa is believed to have a metallic iron core. A big difference between it and the other moons of Jupiter is that Europa manages to maintain its own magnetic field. Induced by passes through the much bigger one of Jupiter, this is what scientists believe prevents the oceans from freezing entirely and has provided this renewed hope for extra-terrestrial life.
Keep in mind an earlier post about extremophiles and compare the conditions of Europa and its ocean to the microbes that hang in volcanic vents here on Earth, clinging to them, obtaining heat and nutrients that allow them to live. It is believed that possibly Europa has volcanic vents that would provide the same possibility of life.
BUT not coming back? It is likely that the fatal dose of radiation the astronauts would have received would have killed them by the time the almost 2 year return flight would have passed. This would definitely be a true explorer’s task. To take on a scientific study and selflessly know that there would be no return.
I can’t help but wonder if we might develop radiation-proof meta-materials. If scientists can grab one characteristic from one material and then another characteristic from a different material why not the natural resistance to radiation of lunar soil mixed with the strength & durability of the new (truly) bullet-proof meta?
And for the equipment, engineers at the University of Utah have just designed devices that are able to withstand the intense radiation and heat of a nuclear event. Just guessing, but it would probably be important for use in the awesome drilling/diving sub-like machine. This way they wouldn’t be compromised by radiation.
And for the communication part, this is timely. The laser communications capabilities sent up on LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere Dust Envorment Explorer) to test with Earth (US & ESA sites) and the LCRD (Laser Communications Demonstration Relay) to go up in 2017 that would allow testing of both space to space and space to earth from LADEE You think they wait a long time for communications from Earth? Using current methods, it would take 90 minutes for someone to communicate with Earth and Earth respond. Should Laser communications be up and running that would provide a boost of anywhere from 10 to a 100 times quicker. Of course the storm activity on Europa might be a problem.