Dress Rehearsals for Europa Missions Eyed

PASADENA, Calif., Aug. 17 (UPI) — Possible future missions to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa could have dress rehearsals at Earth sites that mimic the Jovian moon, U.S. researchers say.

Just as missions to Mars were carefully field-tested in “Mars yards,” earthly terrains that duplicated areas of the red planet, researchers would like to rehearse Europa missions here first, Astrobiology Magazine reports.

Landing and moving about on Europa, with its icy and cracked surface, could prove especially tricky, scientists say.

And amid debate over whether Europa might host alien life, scientists also would like to vigorously test methods that look for evidence of it.

“Before we can build landers, we need to understand these environments, and the interplay of biology and chemistry under these unusual conditions,” astrobiologist Damhnait Gleeson at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said. “Designing missions to go to Europa presents many technical challenges, from the low temperatures to the harsh radiation.”

One Earth site that might mimic Europa is Lake Vostok in Antarctica.

Europa’s ocean probably lies beneath perhaps some 9.3 miles of ice. Similarly, Lake Vostok is located roughly 2.5 miles beneath the surface of the East Antarctic ice sheet.

No analog is a perfect match for Europa, Gleeson admits.

Still, “the similarities are more important than the differences in this case,” Gleeson said. “The more different sets of conditions we prepare for, the better our chances of being prepared for the unexpected at Europa.”

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Categorized | Other, Radiation
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