The mission to explore Europa, the moon of Jupiter with twice as much seawater as Earth, has entered “phase B,” meaning the project now has funding from Congress. Among the potential technological tools of the mission is a super-heated drill that would land on the moon’s frozen surface and burrow through approximately 15 miles of frozen water, reaching the massive store of liquid water beneath. The mission is NASA’s most ambitious attempt to find life in our solar system outside planet Earth.
Olwethu: Hi Bill. I'm Olwethu. I'm 16 years old from South Africa. My question is what are the future plans for the Europa trip and what instruments will be utilized to drill beneath the Earth's surface?
Bill Nye: So, the big news here in the United States is this mission to Europa, mission is what we call a spacecraft and all the people that work to support it. The mission to Europa is now in phase B. In other words, it's after phase A so it's been funded; there's money being spent selecting instruments for a spacecraft to go out to Europa, the moon of Jupiter with twice as much seawater as the Earth. And looking for signs of life is a tricky business because a spacecraft would be going very, very fast in order to get out there and get in orbit around Europa without just smashing into it.
So when you said the Earth's surface, I bet you meant the Europanian surface, the Europian surface. So along this line, I'm reluctant to call him our hero but there's a congressman in the U.S. Senate, in the U.S. Congress named John Culberson and he is a huge fan of sending a mission to Europa. He has a daughter who's 19, I believe, and he wants it so that she will know whether or not there is life on Europa, just like you. And so he has put in a congressional bill —this is here in the United States; this is the laws and regulations that provide money to NASA, the world's largest space agency — he has put money in there to make a lander for Europa. And in general the lander would be a thing with insect-looking legs and then some drill that gets really hot and melts through the ice. And the other plan they talk about all the time — they want to have a big, long tether, a big cable so this thing would melt through 20 kilometers of ice, like 15 miles of ice and look around in the Europanian ocean. It would be an extraordinary thing. Now this is a cool thing and we're very excited about it at the Planetary Society, but the drawback is humans being what they are and Congress being what it is here in the U.S., when something that ambitious or that expensive or that pricey is put in a bill, what often happens is the other side, the Senate, the U.S. government has two houses, just like lords and common and the other side will cancel that money set aside, but we'll see. Either way, there is a mission going to Europa and there is a proposal to make a very sophisticated, complicated lander to look for signs of life below the surface. The extraordinary, and I hope it happens while you're alive. I hope it does. Stay tuned.