In search for life, NASA’s ‘Clipper’ spacecraft to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa


American space scientists on Thursday said that the interplanetary probe slated to be sent by NASA to one of Jupiter’s icy moons, marking a significant milestone in humanity’s quest to uncover extraterrestrial life.

As reported by AFP, scheduled for launch in October, the Clipper spacecraft is set to embark on a journey towards Europa, one of Jupiter’s numerous moons. Europa holds particular significance as it is the closest celestial body within our solar system that might harbour conditions conducive to life.

“One of the fundamental questions that NASA wants to understand is, are we alone in the cosmos?” Bob Pappalardo, the mission’s project scientist told AFP.

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PASADENA, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 11: Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) workers stand near a mannequin inside a Spacecraft Assembly Facility clean room during a media visit to the NASA Europa Clipper spacecraft at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) on April 11, 2024 in Pasadena, California. The spacecraft is scheduled to investigate and perform flybys of Europa, Jupiter’s moon, where data suggests a global ocean of water lies beneath the icy surface which may be habitable for life. The spacecraft is scheduled to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in October. Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by MARIO TAMA / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP) (Getty Images via AFP)

“If we were to find the conditions for life, and then someday actually find life in a place like Europa, then that would say in our own solar system there are two examples of life: Earth and Europa. That would be huge for understanding how common life might be throughout the universe.”

The $5 billion probe is presently stationed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, housed within a specialised “clean room.”

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AFP reported that this environment is sealed and accessible only to individuals donning full-body protective gear. Such stringent measures are in place to safeguard the probe against potential contamination by Earthly microbes, thereby minimizing the risk of transporting any unwanted organisms to Europa.

Moreover, following its transfer to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Clipper spacecraft will be launched aboard a Space X Falcon Heavy rocket, marking the commencement of a journey spanning over five years. This trajectory includes a pass by Mars to harness gravitational assistance for added velocity.

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By the year 2031, the spacecraft is anticipated to achieve orbit around Jupiter and its moon Europa. Once positioned, it will embark on an extensive examination of Europa, a celestial body believed to be enshrouded in layers of frozen water, offering tantalizing prospects for scientific exploration.

“We have instruments like cameras, and spectrometers, a magnetometer and a radar that can… penetrate right through ice, bounce off liquid water and back to the surface to tell us how thick is the ice and where is liquid water located,” Pappalardo said.

(With inputs from AFP)

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Published: 12 Apr 2024, 01:47 PM IST


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