NASA Mission to Europa to Search for Extraterrestrial Life

PHOTO: The moon Europa orbits in front of Jupiter in this color picture taken by NASAs Cassini spacecraft on Dec. 7, 2000.University of Arizona/JPL/NASA
The moon Europa orbits in front of Jupiter in this color picture taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Dec. 7, 2000.

NASA has its sights set on a visit to Jupiter's icy moon Europa, where astrobiologists believe there could be possible extraterrestrial life forms.

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"For the first time in the history of humanity we have the tools and technology and capability to potentially answer this question. And, we know where to go to find it," Kevin Hand, a NASA astrobiologist, said last year.

Getting a closer look could soon be a reality. The $18.5 billion NASA budget recently proposed by the White House for next year includes money earmarked "for Planetary Science including formulation of a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa."

Under its icy shell, Europa, one of the many moons orbiting Jupiter, has an interior ocean that could perhaps be ten times deeper than those on Earth, and include two to three times the volume of all liquid water on our planet, according to Hand.

PHOTO: New Horizons took this image of the icy moon Europa rising above Jupiters cloud tops with its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI)on Feb. 28, 2007.Southwest Research Institute/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/NASA
New Horizons took this image of the icy moon Europa rising above Jupiter's cloud tops with its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI)on Feb. 28, 2007.

"The story of life on Earth may have begun in our oceans," he said in a NASA video interview. "And that's because, of course, if we've learned anything about life on Earth it's that where you find the liquid water you generally find life."

NASA has been experimenting with the concept of the Europa Clipper, a spacecraft that would orbit Jupiter and collect reconnaissance on Europa -- and possibly bring back signs of multi-cellular life.

PHOTO: A color view of the surface of Europa.JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute/NASA
A color view of the surface of Europa.

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