November 20, 2015
NASA May Have A Secret Mission To Search For Alien Life On Jupiter's Moon, Europa

NASA wouldn't keep anything from us, would they? Especially not news that they could land on Jupiter's moon, Europa, to search for alien life. That's just what a new report suggests: a secret mission to a distant moon that NASA isn't quite ready to admit.

The plans to explore Europa in a so-called Multi-Flyby Mission are no secret, however. What is under wraps, and recently leaked by Texas Republican Rep. John Culberson, is a possible plan to land on Europa. NASA hasn't officially committed to that just yet.

If they do, scientists could discover life on Europa. According to Business Insider, the tiny moon of Jupiter is the most likely place beyond Earth to harbor life and could be flowing with far more water than our planet.

To find out for sure, we may just have to land on the moon.

But first, to the actual, official NASA mission. Popular Mechanics reported that its goal is to explore the moon from Jupiter's orbit. NASA is so interested in it because findings from the Voyager missions and Galileo orbiter have suggested that the moon's icy crust is hiding a salty ocean. As many astrobiologists believe, where there's water, there's life.

Does NASA have a secret mission to land on Europa
[Photo by Naeblys/Shutterstock]A flyby of Europa could solve the puzzle of the evolution of life. The flyby may happen in the early 2020s with a robot outfitted with nine instruments that can each explore a single piece of the answer, said a University Colorado professor, Zoltan Sternovsky, who is part of a team developing one of these instruments. He told Space.com that his Surface Dust Mass Analyzer can figure out what materials are being spewed from Europa's moon.
"The whole mission and each instrument will contribute pieces to the big puzzle, which is understanding the evolution of life. Is Earth unique, or is life widespread and forms once conditions are right? Either way, knowing the answer would be very, very exciting. I believe this is perhaps one of the most important science questions of this century, if not … for all humankind."
While in Jupiter's orbit, this NASA probe is supposed to perform 45 flybys of Europa over three years, from altitudes of 16 miles to 1,700 miles. The mission would cost $2 billion and NASA hasn't committed to landing on Europa -- yet.

In this presently secret mission, a lander would explore Europa's ice on the surface and study the molecules in its theorized liquid ocean. The secret lander wouldn't actually swim in the ocean, but it could sample the water by hanging out beside one of the moon's open crevasses that have been known to gurgle forth some of the liquid.

Last year, NASA announced that they were exploring the lander option, but didn't provide details. Rep. Culberson, whose subcommittee has oversight over NASA's budget, is pushing to fund an on-the-ground mission because it would improve the chances of finding -- or not finding -- life.

Does NASA have a secret mission to land on Europa
Io Moon Over Jupiter. [Photo by NASA/Getty Images]
"Honestly, if you're going to go all that way to determine if there's life on another world, why wouldn't you double-check it?"
Culberson had some details about the possible secret mission: A lander would prolong the mission for a year; a site hasn't yet been chosen; the lander could be delivered via sky crane and it would have room for instruments and come outfitted with a scooper, sampling arm, and possibly saw blades to collect ice samples.

Popular Mechanics confirmed the fairly secret nature of this mission, noting NASA was reluctant to commit to anything but changed its collective mind thanks to the Texan's insistence. Previous discussions have hinted that the heavy lift Space Launch System could get a lander to Europa, shortening the journey significantly and allowing time for the lander to be developed.

Even if NASA's mission does discover life, humans won't be moving to Europa any time soon. The moon is ravaged by radiation from Jupiter so severe it has damaged instruments from other missions. If a lander does happen, it won't last long.

[Photo by Tristan3D/Shutterstock]