Europa has become a high-priority objective for exploration because it may harbor life. Strategic planning for its exploration has been predicated on an extreme model in which the expected oceanic biosphere lies under a thick ice crust, buried too deep to be reached in the foreseeable future, which would beg the question of whether other active satellites might be more realistic objectives. However, Europa's ice may in fact be permeable, with very different implications for the possibilities for life and for mission planning. A biosphere may extend up to near the surface, making life far more readily accessible to exploration while at the same time making it vulnerable to contamination. The chances of finding life on Europa are substantially improved while the need for planetary protection becomes essential. The new National Research Council planetary protection study will need to go beyond its current mandate if meaningful standards are to be put in place.
- Mission planning
- Planetary protection
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
- Space and Planetary Science