One of my favorite films, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me is partly a cautionary tale about what happens when curiosity gets the better of someone, and is direct in its depiction of a seemingly innocent journey nearly ruined time and time again. Science fiction is full of these kinds of stories, where would-be pioneers meet their instant doom due to unforeseen circumstances, but science just keeps on trying to make all that shit happen. NASA‘s Next Big Plan is an unmanned mission to Europa, Jupiter’s most interesting moon in terms of Earthly similarities. It’ll be a while before the car is packed and gassed up though, so don’t go writing any alien conspiracy theories just yet.
For their fiscal year 2015 Budget Proposal, NASA plans to spend $17.5 billion in various ways, including putting more money into the Sunjammer Solar Sail energy source, climate change studies, and hopefully major developments in getting humans into deep space travels and hibernation. But they’re also setting aside $15 million for “pre-formulation work for a potential mission to Jupiter’s moon, Europa.” Elizabeth Robinson, NASA’s chief financial officer, said the potential mission would launch in the mid-2020s, which means this thing could either become a highly-promoted and well-embraced challenge, or it could get swept under the space rug when the next U.S. President enters the oval office.
Last year, a lot of talk went into NASA’s lack of funding for future flagship missions, and while the original AP article mentioned that fact, there was no talk of what kind of a final budget this Europa mission will end up with. The Washington Post reports NASA chief Charles Bolden and Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate John M. Grunsfield were at a conference earlier today and stated NASA will likely aim to keep the mission’s cost under $1 billion, which technically would put it in the New Frontiers program. Has NASA ever done anything for less than a billion dollars?
NASA spokesman David Weaver released a statement later that day that said, “NASA is in the early stages of mission formulation and we intend to use the funds proposed in next year’s budget—along with the money already approved by Congress—to help research the scope of a Europa mission.” Nothing says government-speak like saying something that everyone knew already. The statement also says that input from the science community will be welcomed as they try to figure out the most plausible way of finalizing a plan.
It’s exciting stuff, certainly, although one always has to wonder how the space program’s billion-dollar operations would have better served the human population. And as 2010 and Europa Report have already proven, we might not like everything we find up there.