“ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS – EXCEPT EUROPA. ATTEMPT NO LANDING THERE.”
These are the words broadcast by the computer HAL as recounted in Arthur C. Clarke’s book “2010: Odyssey Two,” the sequel to the iconic “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
The message had been delivered to the computer by the non-corporeal David Bowman (the focus of the “2001”), but more accurately from the energy-based aliens who control the fate of Bowman, the famous monoliths and much more. The aliens had concluded that Europa, with its subsurface ocean, could support life with the potential to evolve, and so they wanted the Jovian moon to be protected from meddling by humans or anyone else.
Clarke’s “Odyssey Two” was released in 1982, when Europa was not exactly a front-burner destination for NASA or anyone else.
But much has changed, and Clarke’s early focus on Europa as the most potentially habitable object in the solar system has been embraced by NASA and others for some time.
While the fictional admonition not to land on Europa is (for now, a least) being respected, the pull of Europa has become enormously strong.
The NASA spaceship Juno recently performed a flyby of the moon and took some revealing new photos. (See above.)
Just last month, the European Space Agency launched the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) spacecraft that is headed to Jupiter and three Jovian moons, including Europa.
And now all the parts and instruments of NASA’s Europa Clipper are in a Jet Propulsion Lab clean room for assembly in preparation for an October, 2024 launch. The Clipper will not land on Europa, but it will get closer than any other spacecraft has come.
So while it won’t be until the early 2030s that JUICE and the Clipper have their close encounters with Europa, the moon is very much on the front burner now for astrobiologists, planetary scientists and space (and science fiction) aficionados of all kinds.… Read more