Europa Clipper and How YOU Can Be an Astronaut

podcast Apr 16, 2018


Who wants to be an astronaut? Well, there’s an app for that!

Created by Finnish startup Space Nation, the Space Nation Navigator mobile app includes boot camp-style fitness workouts, exams, and even a story-based adventure element. “These are designed to test and train not just users’ physical abilities, but also their cognitive and social skills — such as problem-solving or managing a crisis.”

As an astronaut in training, you can collect points and reach increasingly difficult levels, with the potential of winning prizes at certain stages of the program. After three 12-week cycles, somewhere around 100 trainees from all over the world will be selected to participate in a real-life training camp. Of those selected, 12 will then be invited to participate in a more intensive 10-week astronaut training camp in Iceland, which will be filmed and broadcast. The winning contender will get a free trip to the cosmos!

Congratulations RocketLab and Welcome to the Space Race!

RocketLab has completed 2 successful test launches of it’s Electron Rocket and has a plan to launch once a month by the end of 2018. The Electron Rocket can carry 150kg and only costs $5 million, while SpaceX’s Falcon 9 can launch 22,800 kg for $62 million. RocketLab will revolutionize the small-satallite rocket industry. Founder Peter Beck says, “But now, the payoff will come. With no other launch providers anywhere close, the remote Mahia site [in New Zealand] has no range issues. And the company has a license to launch as frequently as every 72 hours for the next 30 years. "This is absolutely critical for our business strategy,"

NASA’s newest and most exciting missions, but first some background

Where the is water there is life. About 71 percent of Earth’s surface is covered by water. With over 326 million trillion gallons of water on Earth, our oceans contain about 96.5 percent of all the planet’s water. Less than 3 percent of all water on Earth is actually okay to drink.

But are we alone?

Billions of years ago, Venus may have been the first planet in our solar system with an ocean. Venus doesn’t have a strong global magnetic field like Earth, which helps to protect our atmosphere. AND a runaway greenhouse effect raised temperatures enough to boil off all of the water, which was carried into space by solar wind.

Mars used to also be more Earth-like, with a thick atmosphere, plenty of water, and oceans as big as ours. Also billions of years ago however, Mars lost its protective magnetic field, leaving it vulnerable solar wind. Scientists estimate that Mars has lost approximately 87 percent of the water it had all of that time ago.

For those of your wondering, Solar winds happen when the corona, or the sun's outer layer, reaches temperatures of up to 2 million degrees Fahrenheit. At this level, the sun's gravity can't hold on to the rapidly moving particles, and it streams away from the star. If the material carried by the solar wind reached a planet's surface, its radiation would do severe damage to any life that might exist. Earth's magnetic field serves as a shield, redirecting the material around the planet so that it streams beyond it.

Even today, Earth isn’t the only ocean world in our solar system.

Jupiter’s Moons

  • Ganymede (largest Moon in our Solar System)
  • Callisto

Saturn’s Moon’s

  • Enceladus
  • Titan
  • Mimas (MYE-mus)

Neptune’s Moon

  • Triton (possible)

Dwarf Planet Pluto

All these being said, there is one that stands out above the rest, enough so that NASA is sending a spacecraft there in the 2020s. This is Jupiter’s Moon, Europa, soon to be joined by NASA’s Europa Clipper.

Europa is currently thought to be the most likely place in our solar system to find life…. But why you might ask? Water.

Scientists think that below its icy surface, lies an extremely salty ocean. The ultimate aim of Europa Clipper is to determine if Europa is habitable, possessing all three of the ingredients necessary for life: liquid water, chemical ingredients, and energy sources sufficient to enable biology. However, because of the pushing and pulling effects that Jupiter’s gravity has on Europa’s interior, it is like a hotbed of radiation. Meaning, it may be extremely dangerous for spacecraft remain there for too long long, let alone humans.

Due to this radiation, the Europa Clipper won’t actually orbit Europa itself, but it will actually orbit Jupiter, passing really close to Europa every 2 weeks about 45 times during the mission, ranging from 1700 miles to 16 miles above the surface. Think of it like running through sprinklers. Claudia Alexander (Project Manager for the Galileo Mission) says to imagine that the water is radiation. As kids you would start from afar, then run through and leave quickly, only to come back around for another run. During each flyby, the Europa Clipper will image the Europa's icy surface, find out what it’s made of and figure out what is inside that huge icy shell.

Why? Why go there?

  1. NASA's Hubble Space Telescope observed water vapor above the south polar region of Europa in 2012, providing potential evidence of water plumes. If these plumes actually exist, they will confirm a subsurface ocean. And flying through the plumes will allow us to learn its chemical makeup
  2. Helps address the question: Are we alone in the universe?

The Europa clipper with be fully fitted with a super nice camera, an ice-penetrating radar that will help determine the depth of the icy shell, and other instruments to determine the strength of Europa’s Magnetic field, how salty the oceans are, and search for water particles in the atmosphere.

Fun Facts  

  • “Europa is the sixth closest moon of Jupiter and is the smallest of the Galilean moons discovered by Galileo. The other Galilean moons are Io, Ganymede and Callisto. Even though it is the smallest of the Galilean moons, Europa is still the sixth largest of the 181 moons in the solar system.”
  • “Europa was officially discovered on January 8, 1610 but Galileo may have actually discovered the moon the day before. He was using a low-powered telescope and couldn’t actually distinguish Europa from the other Galilean moon Io until the next day.”
  • “The discovery of Europa and the other Galilean Moons led to the discovery of a sun-centered solar system.”
  • “Europa is the smoothest object in the Solar System.”
  • “Europa is about 4.5 Billion years old, but its icy shell is only 20-180 million years old.”
  • “Radiation on Europa is strong enough to kill a human in one day.”
  • “One day on Europa lasts as long as a year - 3.5 Earth days.”
  • “Europa is tidally locked to Jupiter.”

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