Jupiter’s moon Europa is covered in a dense coating of ever-changing ice which seems to be floating over a deep, warm ocean. Researchers have long proposed that it’s the most probable place that life might have developed outside Earth. And now, after a long wait, NASA has confirmed it's initial mission to Europa has come into the development stage. June 8 is marked as the first day of development for the mission, which will be launched in the 2020s. Europa’s oceans could be double as big as Earth’s oceans, and researchers guess that Europa’s oceans have a rocky floor and even tides produced by Jupiter’s gravitational pull. John Grunsfeld, assistant administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a statement:
“Today we’re taking an exciting step from concept to mission, in our quest to find signs of life beyond Earth. Observations of Europa have provided us with tantalizing clues over the last two decades, and the time has come to seek answers to one of humanity’s most profound questions.”
So this is openly a mission to discover life beyond. JPL will be managing the production of the as-yet-unnamed Europa space craft, with tools delivered by a variety of labs. It’s worth noticing that there’s been a longstanding trope in science fiction about how Europa is populated and humans shouldn’t go there. Maybe the best known is in the sci-fi movie 2010, when the aliens say to humankind, “All these worlds are yours except Europa. Attempt no landing there.” More lately, there’s the indie sci-fi movie Europa Report, where humans try a landing and, well ... you can see the movie if you want to know what happens to the crew. Maybe in deference to this sci-fi belief, NASA’s mission will attempt no landing on Jupiter’s icy ocean moon. It will do about 45 flybys, zooming around Jupiter in the procedure, with tools that can do almost everything from graphic maps of Europa’s surface, to spectral scrutiny, radar, soundings, magnetic field examination, temperature sensing, and more.
But even if we don’t discover life on Europa, there are some other watery places to search. Most especially, Saturn’s moon Enceladus is known for discharging huge plumes of water into space, which clue at oceans underneath its crust.