NASA Administrator Charles Bolden held a press conference at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Monday to discuss the details of President Barack Obama’s budget request for fiscal year 2016, which begins on October 1st. Obama is requesting $18.5 billion for NASA, up from $18 billion for FY 2015. The budget includes $30 million to develop a mission to Europa; one of Jupiter’s largest moons and one the best prospects for life in the solar system outside of Earth. The budget assumes the mission would launch in the early to mid-2020s.
“Looking to the future, we’re planning a mission to explore Jupiter’s fascinating moon Europa, selecting instruments this spring and moving toward the next phase of our work,” Administrator Bolden said at the conference.
Europa is the sixth largest moon in the solar system, with a mean radius roughly 90% of Earth’s moon. There are tectonic plates on the moon, just like on Earth. It is believed to have a vast ocean beneath its icy surface, which could contain the chemical compounds essential for life. Europa was once thought to have geysers shooting out from the ice, which would make it much easier to analyze the water, though they haven’t been located in months.
The Europa Clipper is an orbital spacecraft first conceptualized over 15 years ago. The proposed mission would image the moon’s surface, take measurements to help determine its atmospheric composition and potential habitability, and possibly even reveal what happened to those geysers. This information would be invaluable for planning future missions to the moon, especially a potential lander.
Though Obama has requested $30 million for the Europa mission, there’s no telling what the figure will look like after the budget has been approved by Congress. For FY 2015, the White House requested $15 million for a Europa mission, but Congress ultimately approved $100 million. However, the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness is now chaired by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who has a history of voting to reduce funding to the agency and even threw the hissy fit that caused a government shutdown in 2013. This ultimately furloughed 97% of NASA’s employees and compromised decades of data.
In addition to the plans for exploring Europa, Bolden touched on other current and future NASA missions, including human missions to Mars, the Commercial Crew Program, the Asteroid Redirect Mission, Soil Moisture Active Passive spacecraft, the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, and more. He also explained what made each of these missions special, and how these endeavors benefit the country as a whole.
"NASA is an incredible investment for our nation because what we do not only uncover new knowledge, it helps raise the bar of human achievement," Bolden added. "People everywhere are attracted to what we do, because exploration embodies our values as a nation—resilience, hope, and overcoming the challenges faced.”
Tune in to Bolden’s entire State of NASA address here: