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Fly Me To Which Moon?

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the life-don't-talk-to-me-about-life dept.

Space 183

Hugh Pickens writes "NASA and the European Space Agency are expected later this week to settle an ongoing debate on whether to send a robotic mission to Jupiter's moon Europa or Saturn's moon Titan. Both are difficult places to get to — a mission to either would cost several billion dollars/euros to build and execute — and both have become alluring targets in the quest to learn whether Earth alone supports life. On the one hand, Europa is believed to have liquid oceans beneath its frozen crust which (on Earth at least) are a source of life-supporting chemistry. Scientists would like to scan Europa's surface for bits of material that may have seeped up from beneath the ice. 'Imagine if there were microbes entrained in material that has exuded onto the surface of Europa and they've been sitting there for maybe three million years,' says planetary scientist Dr. Brad Dalton. On the other hand, Titan has two enticing features in the search for life: liquids on the surface, and a thick atmosphere that can be used to slow down a spacecraft and help put it into orbit. Titan's surface water is locked into the crust as ice, but scientists suspect there may be a subsurface ocean where water mingles with ammonia. The mission will not get to the launch pad before 2020. 'It's unfortunate that there has to be a decision,' says NASA/JPL astrobiologist Dr. Kevin Hand. 'It's important to go to both. They are both such amazing and tantalizing worlds in terms of finding life.'"

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183 comments

fist? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26809077)

fist?

Re:fist? (1)

doyoulikegoatseeee (930088) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809505)

you must be new here

We already know the outcome... (5, Funny)

Etcetera (14711) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809119)

All these worlds are belong to you. Except Europa. Attempt no landings there, every 'ZIG'!!

Re:We already know the outcome... (4, Informative)

volcanopele (537152) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809299)

Except...the Europa mission doesn't have a lander. It only has two orbiters, one would go to Europa and the other would go to Ganymede.

Re:We already know the outcome... (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26809499)

To Ganymede and Titan, yes sir, I've been around...

Re:We already know the outcome... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26809731)

I've been to Titan
I've been to Juno
How many things that go in jars d'you know?

Re:We already know the outcome... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26810827)

But there ain't no place, in the whole of space, like that good ol' toddlin' town.

Re:We already know the outcome... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26811293)

You can't sing you know.

Re:We already know the outcome... (1)

MRe_nl (306212) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809725)

fly me to the moon
let me play among the stars
let me see what spring is like
on jupiter and mars

Re:We already know the outcome... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26809993)

ok, I know it's lame but.... that's no moon.

/duck!

access to space (5, Insightful)

Gary W. Longsine (124661) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809121)

If we had worked on cheaper access to space first, we could have both.

Re:access to space (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26809185)

when? in 500 years?

stfu

Re:access to space (2, Interesting)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809193)

Expecting government contractors to do anything more than provide the bare minimum to get the next contract is foolish.

The whole point of Apollo was that nothing fundamentally *new* was required. "All" that was needed was to put the existing technology together. The same cannot be said of RLVs.

Re:access to space (4, Insightful)

Bearhouse (1034238) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809815)

Expecting government contractors to do anything more than provide the bare minimum to get the next contract is foolish.

The whole point of Apollo was that nothing fundamentally *new* was required. "All" that was needed was to put the existing technology together. The same cannot be said of RLVs.

Agree with the first pont, but the second - you're kidding, right?

The entire point of the Apollo programs was to funnel huge amounts of cash into the public/private sector so the USA could 'catch up' with the Sovs. (If they were really 'in the lead' could be debated endlessly).

Huge advances were required in many fields, including materials science, rocket motor design and construction, computers for simulation and guidance...

As often, Wikipedia says it better than I could:

"The program spurred advances in many areas of technology peripheral to rocketry and manned spaceflight. These include major contributions in the fields of avionics, telecommunications, and computers. The program sparked interest in many fields of engineering, including pioneering work using statistical methods to study the reliability of complex systems made from component parts. The physical facilities and machines which were necessary components of the manned spaceflight program remain as landmarks of civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering..."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_program [wikipedia.org]

Re:access to space (4, Interesting)

Jurily (900488) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809353)

If we had worked on cheaper access to space first, we could have both.

Agreed. we should have a space station at L1 [wikipedia.org] before we do any more exploring.

Re:access to space (4, Informative)

Creepy Crawler (680178) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809371)

L1, L2, and L3 are all semi-unstable points. You'd be better off in L4 or L5.

And solar wind at L1 is a bitch. At least the magnetosphere would protect some at L2.

Re:access to space (3, Interesting)

Jurily (900488) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809513)

L1, L2, and L3 are all semi-unstable points. You'd be better off in L4 or L5.

And solar wind at L1 is a bitch. At least the magnetosphere would protect some at L2.

I have to agree with that. It does not lessen my point about having a space station first, then expanding further, though.

Re:access to space (3, Insightful)

MadnessASAP (1052274) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809675)

Unfortunately getting to L4 or L5 is a bit of a bitch. NASA is having problems getting people back to the the moon, L4 and L5 are several times further.

Re:access to space (2, Interesting)

OolimPhon (1120895) | more than 5 years ago | (#26810669)

Unfortunately getting to L4 or L5 is a bit of a bitch. NASA is having problems getting people back to the the moon, L4 and L5 are several times further.

Shame. I would like to see NASA et al. boost the ISS out to L4 or L5 when it's finished with, instead of splashing it and losing the whole thing.
 
At least we would have an ad hoc laboratory to see how our existing equipment works beyond the magnetosphere, plus somewhere to go that's easier than the Moon or Mars but may be more useful than low earth orbit.

Re:access to space (1)

In hydraulis (1318473) | more than 5 years ago | (#26810999)

"Several times further"?

L4 & L5 are situated 60 degrees ahead and behind the Earth in its orbit (subtended at the Sun), i.e. each of those points forms an equilateral triangle with the Earth and Sun at the other two vertices.

They are 150 million kilometres away. Even L1&2 are several times the distance of the Moon.

Re:access to space (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#26811001)

Unfortunately getting to L4 or L5 is a bit of a bitch. NASA is having problems getting people back to the the moon, L4 and L5 are several times further.

How did this get marked insightful? For all that it is 1/6 that of earth, the moon has a gravity well. Traveling through space is cheap; all you need is supplies for any actual crew. Landing and taking off again, that's hard. To be fair, stopping ain't necessarily easy either. And let's face it, NASA can't actually get to the ISS right now (they should scrub every shuttle launch, because the vehicle is so heavily flawed by design. how many do we have to blow up to prove the point?)

Re:access to space (2, Insightful)

weighn (578357) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809723)

cheaper is one thing - getting space progs on a higher budgetary priority is at least as good.

we could have worked out a single mission visiting both by now if we didn't worry about crud like cold wars, wars on drugs/terror, etc ... oh well

BTW - i almost fell for the sig, nice one!

Re:access to space (1)

Fanro (130986) | more than 5 years ago | (#26810971)

I thought the problem with the stable points is that all sorts of debris and dust collect there?

And sorry, could not resist:

Oh, give me a locus where the gravitons focus
                Where the three-body problem is solved,
                Where the microwaves play down at three degrees K,
                And the cold virus never evolved.
CHORUS: Home, home on LaGrange,
                Where the space debris always collects,
                We possess, so it seems, two of Man's greatest dreams:
                Solar power and zero-gee sex.

                                --Home on Lagrange (The L5 Song)
                                              © 1978 by William S. Higgins and Barry D. Gehm

Re:access to space (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26811047)

L1 is cool but its ghetto there.

Re:access to space (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26809457)

a mission to either would cost several billion dollars/euros to build and execute

One more thing for the taxpayers to bend over for - now who would have thought the trip to either moon would begin with a trip to uranus...

Europa, but differently (2, Interesting)

arogier (1250960) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809139)

Really if we're just looking for microbes we're bound to be disappointed. Reminds me of this alien invasion story in the New Yorker. Link [newyorker.com]

We need something that can see big things too, so we don't miss some Cthulhu looking thing just beneath the ice while we scrape around for little stuff.

Re:Europa, but differently (1)

weighn (578357) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809737)

Really if we're just looking for microbes we're bound to be disappointed.

not really. let's look for microbes (most likely candidates) and if the cameras capture some horns or stuff before *NO CARRIER* then we can all hang in excitement until the next mission arrives

Re:Europa, but differently (1)

JamesP (688957) | more than 5 years ago | (#26810539)

Well, if there is a "big creature" there, microbes certainly exist as well.

Ok, ok, the whole problem with Europa is the very thick layer of ice, as well as the (very justified) fear of meddling with one of the most likely places to have life in the solar system.

Also, I'm not sure about the survivability of bacteria that 'seeps out' of the ice.

Bailout Chump Change (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26809149)

Why not both? This is chump change compared to the bailout, and hey! It might actually work!!! :D

Re:Bailout Chump Change (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26810693)

Usually the desing of the space ship is about 80% of the cost. Building another identical would cost 10% extra and the launch itself would take final 10%. So by investion maybe 20% more you could send (almost) identical ships to both worlds.

Who cares how much it costs... (4, Funny)

Loopy (41728) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809151)

Just call it "stimulus" and us yanks will just print some more money for it. :/

Re:Who cares how much it costs... (2, Interesting)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809495)

Just call it "stimulus" and us yanks will just print some more money for it. :/

There's nothing wrong in this economic environment with printing money.

We are facing a severe spectre of deflation, unofficially I think its already happening.

While hyperinflation is bad, it's unlikely to happen with such a massive collapse of the credit markets and money supply, but deflation is a severe concern as the majority of people and businesses have taken on considerable debts.

Deflation makes debts more onerous. The last thing we need in an environment where people's wages are being crushed in a vice is to make their student loans even harder to pay, or conversely the last thing we need in an environment where consumer spending is slowing is to allow prices to drop, rendering corporate debts more onerous... making either untenable for their respective parties will only lead to more disaster.

Printing money with what in any other times would be considered dangerous and reckless abandon is actually a good way to provide a counter-force to this threat.

Re:Who cares how much it costs... (2, Insightful)

digitalchinky (650880) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809691)

Deflation might suck if you are already loaded up with debt, but not all of us are. I kind of like the idea of having everything drop in price, except for my wage that is. It might actually encourage me to take out a loan.

Re:Who cares how much it costs... (1)

djupedal (584558) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809741)

> There's nothing wrong in this economic environment with printing money.

Of course not. It's not 'this economic environment' that would take the hit...you heartless, short-sighted lout!

Re:Who cares how much it costs... (1)

weighn (578357) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809791)

Just call it "stimulus" and us yanks will just print some more money for it. :/

There's nothing wrong in this economic environment with printing money.

Inflation and interest rates can easily get out of hand if we get to, erm, stimulated.

credit crises (now) > cash crises (after govt goes into deficit) > print money > inflation/high int rates ... if we add further job cuts into the mix at this stage the cycle renews > more foreclosures > housing slump, food prices spiralling.

printing money is the prescription under the old rules, but ...

Re:Who cares how much it costs... (1)

Jay Tarbox (48535) | more than 5 years ago | (#26810319)

I was thinking about this whole "printing money" issue. If, in fact a lot of money/wealth was "erased" by the carious crashes (mostly electronically)- isn't printing money just putting it back rather than truly adding more money?

Re:Who cares how much it costs... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26810659)

Just call it "stimulus" and us yanks will just print some more money for it. :/

Funny but actually your comment shows exactly what's wrong with the US:
1. You need money.
2. You print money (this has costs).
3. The money you printed is still just as worthless since worth is a quality. If you don't have any quality then quantity won't do you any good at all (hello Mr. Hyper-inflation).
4. ...
5. NO profit!

2008 was the end of the American era, almost precisely 40 years after the first generation advocating a culture of personal irresponsibility and the morality of debauchery (it's what yuppies/bankers and hippies/politicians have in common).

Snow Crash [wikipedia.org] next? It's not like you'll all automagically disappear (unless you do something even more stupid).

Re:Who cares how much it costs... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26810775)

>It's not like you'll all automagically disappear (unless you do something even more stupid).
Yellowstone would like a word.

Misread.. (5, Funny)

gzipped_tar (1151931) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809207)

would cost several billion dollars/euros to build and execute

I misread that one as "would cost several billion dollars/euros to build an executable" and thought "what the heck of a compiler they are using!!"

Time for another Apollo (2, Funny)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809335)

Send a manned mission to Titan.

Re:Time for another Apollo (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26809385)

I'd love to see the flag-planting ceremony for that.

*Sploosh*

WHAT ?? (4, Funny)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809337)

"On the other hand, Titan has two enticing features in the search for life: liquids on the surface, and a thick atmosphere that can be used to slow down a spacecraft and help put it into orbit."

Going there just because it is easier is nothing but a crock. The ONLY criterion for a visit should be: which is judged to be a more likely candidate for life?

The suggestion that they should go there because it is easier, is like the guy who says he lost some money "around the corner" but is looking over here instead because the light is better.

Sheesh. That's logic for you. From the people who are supposed to try to do it! Is the fact that I am less than impressed apparent yet?

Re:WHAT ?? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809387)

Going there just because it is easier is nothing but a crock. The ONLY criterion for a visit should be: which is judged to be a more likely candidate for life?

NASA uses the search for life to justify space exploration, but the search is almost certain to fail. All known life (ie, on Earth) is obviously exothermic. The oxygen in our atmosphere is a clear marker for life. There is nothing comparable to this elsewhere in the solar system.

Re:WHAT ?? (3, Interesting)

f()rK()_Bomb (612162) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809497)

Obviously, life cant exist without oxygen...

oxygen catasrophe [wikipedia.org]

Anaerobic organisms [wikipedia.org]

Re:WHAT ?? (3, Informative)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809515)

Life disturbs local entropy. An example of which is our oxygen atmosphere which is made by living things. Excess methane on Mars and Titan has been attributed to life, but is most likely the result of natural processes.

Re:WHAT ?? (1)

Geheimagent (679949) | more than 5 years ago | (#26810267)

Life disturbs local entropy. An example of which is our oxygen atmosphere which is made by living things. Excess methane on Mars and Titan has been attributed to life, but is most likely the result of natural processes.

Isn't life a natural process?

Re:WHAT ?? (2, Interesting)

geckipede (1261408) | more than 5 years ago | (#26810429)

In the case of Mars, what we're looking for is survivors from a long dead ecosystem. Any big changes to the world caused by life would have happened billions of years ago and been wiped away by now.

Re:WHAT ?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26810849)

Not sure if you have taken a look at Mars any time recently, but it sure looks disturbed to me.

And outright denying the chance there is life on Titan is foolish.
Titan is a young Earth.
The chances of life not being there are incredibly low, going by what we know of the evolution of Earth and the life on it.

If we actually get there in my life time and they prove there is no life there, i will have my nuts cut off and eat them.
I say this knowing the chances are so incredibly low it is almost impossible for there not to be life on there.
It has the heat, it has the chemicals, it certainly has the electrical activity, all known to create life. (AFAWK)

The only major problem might be the fact that Titan goes hidden for extensive periods of time behind Saturn. But could there be enough heat generated from the stress between Titan and Saturn to prevent severe cold temperatures?

Re:WHAT ?? (1)

ckaminski (82854) | more than 5 years ago | (#26811281)

It isn't like there aren't already boatloads of lifeforms on earth that hibernate for months, years or decades... Solved problem. :-)

Re:WHAT ?? (2, Funny)

theM_xl (760570) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809509)

You know, it's that rather narrow view of life that has me convinced that we're not going to know we've discovered life until it declares war on us.

Re:WHAT ?? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809605)

You know, it's that rather narrow view of life that has me convinced that we're not going to know we've discovered life until it declares war on us.

We can't look for the answer until we know the question. (apologies to DNA).

Re:WHAT ?? (1)

Torsoboy (1057192) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809459)

Seems like a statistics problem. Chances of finding life vs. chance of mission failure. If the chance for mission failure is too high, you won't find life anyways. I do agree with your sentiment that they should try to minimize the chance of failure before ruling it out, but I don't think it's "bad" to consider this chance. (Now for stupid example that oversimplifies things to make it seem like I'm correct) If you have one mission with a 10% chance of finding life with a 70% chance of success, that's a 7% chance of finding life overall (despite if it's there or not). If it's 15% of finding but 40% success, that's only 6% chance of finding life overall. Now if only we knew the actual percentages...

Re:WHAT ?? (2, Interesting)

theredshoes (1308621) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809557)

Maybe the basis for life is out there, dirt, frozen water maybe. Every time I look at pictures of places like Titan or Europa it makes me a little sad because they are barren wastelands. The problem is the planets have to have there orbits changed, defrosted and maybe life will happen. I can't imagine we will ever be able to successfully move a planet in the first place, then see if it can sustain life in the second place. It seems like a huge impossibility to me that that will ever happen. It seems more practical to put money into space stations and space tourism.

"It would be a pretty big waste of space."- Carl Sagan

Re:WHAT ?? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809765)

Stephen Baxter's novel Titan ends in the far future where the sun has expanded and destroyed the earth. Titan has thawed out and has its own life. It is a good read though much of it is quite depressing due to Baxters negative views of humanity.

Re:WHAT ?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26809679)

In this context "easier" is a dysphemism for "less expensive."

Costs matter, but to cut a long argument short, your criterion is all wrong. The correct criterion must also take into account our finite resources. Therefore, the correct criterion is: "On which world are we more likely to discover life?"

Re:WHAT ?? (1)

Spinalcold (955025) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809879)

I reply as WHAT?? bioligy?! sorry, but the exploration of how planets and moons are created, is that not important? There are so many other ideas we can gleam from either, from chemistry to geolegy. The environments are drasically different, so the information is differnt. Why does life have to be the only thing?

Re:WHAT ?? (1)

theredshoes (1308621) | more than 5 years ago | (#26810531)

Maybe if NASA decides to ever ask the Russians to get involved they will go to both Titan and Europa. I think the Russians are more into space tourism and building stations. I just think the average person would be more excited about space tourism than how Titan and Europa were created. It won't happen for another 10+ years according to the article anyway. I would assume that would give them enough time to take more pictures. I am not sure what the time frame is for the pictures to come back from those distances. Europa is closer, so I would assume it would be easier to make the trip there. Forward my link below if you can read it. I can, I thought it was funny Mr. or Ms. Geolegy and Bioligy. :)

If yuo can raed tihs, you hvae a sgtrane mnid, too. Can you raed tihs? Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can. [funny-potato.com]

Re:WHAT ?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26810109)

The ONLY criterion for a visit should be: which is judged to be a more likely candidate for life?

Why? We'll eventually get around to both, and if there's life on either it's not going anywhere soon.

And that's assuming we have a good case for one having life over the other. We currently do not. The scant evidence we have suggests that if Titan has much life on its surface, it is smaller than naked-eye visible or it is not where the lander landed. That's about all we can say with confidence.

I would suggest that a better criterion would be "which mission will yield more data?" I can't answer that, being no expert on the topic, but I suspect that Titan would simply on the basis of having an active atmosphere and weather patterns, which puts it in a very small minority of bodies that we can actively explore. We're not talking about the lander mission we all want for Europa, after all, just an orbiter.

Re:WHAT ?? (1)

rdtheta (1404805) | more than 5 years ago | (#26811065)

There are some counter points here which should be made with respect to your analogy. In our case, the guy doesn't know where he lost the money, and might not even be sure what it is when he finds it, as others have noted. He's guessing which place looks more likely. And second, ease of getting there is important: if you don't make it, then there is no search at all. NASA has to weigh risks and rewards, just like everyone else. And I guess I should also mention that there's more to learn than just a "Is there life?(y/n)". It's just the most exciting thing.

Re:WHAT ?? (1)

GreenTech11 (1471589) | more than 5 years ago | (#26811245)

I know, lets spend billions and 10 years of research on building a spacecraft that will crash because we sent it to Europa without the technology required to land safely, sounds great

Interesting Mission Concepts (5, Informative)

volcanopele (537152) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809355)

Both the Europa and Titan mission would be very exciting missions. The Titan mission is a bit more ambitious though, with a NASA-built Titan orbiter that would map the surface at 50 meters per pixel (so not quite Google Earth resolution, but enough to define the major geologic processes that take place on Titan) and an Europe-built hot-air balloon and lander. The latter would land in the largest expanse of open liquid (methane instead of water) known outside of Earth.

The Europa mission is a bit more tame by comparison, but has a lot more technological development to back it up (which would help it come in somewhere close to its original budget). There are two orbiters. The NASA-built orbiter would explore the inner two large moons of Jupiter: Io and Europa; while the ESA-built orbiter would explore the outer two large satellites: Ganymede and Callisto. Unlike the Titan mission, no landers are planned with this mission, but the instruments on-board both spacecraft would allow it to provide more detailed global mapping of Europa and Ganymede than the Titan mission, which as mentioned before would only provide 50-m per pixel global mapping with selected areas at higher resolution imaged by the balloon (which would be limited to a relatively narrow latitude band since Titan's winds are mostly east-west).

The NASA-JPL website has a page with more detailed documents outlining the mission plans for each moon: http://opfm.jpl.nasa.gov/library/ [nasa.gov]

THREE kinds of (possible) life on TITAN! (2, Informative)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 5 years ago | (#26810525)

While the Titan mission is admittedly more ambitious (and potentially more costly) the reason why we should go to Titan is because there might be THREE radically different kinds of life there. This is from Biologist Peter Ward's book in his book "LIFE AS WE DO NOT KNOW IT".

One might be related to, or if we're not careful with contamination, might be the same as our DNA based "CHON" (Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen and Nitrogen) life. They would presumably live on the surface feeding on the hydrocarbons drifting down from the sky; similar to our methanogens or other chemo-trophic bacteria on earth.

Another kind of life might be something a "little" different (but still really unlike anything seen on earth, life that uses AMMONIUM as its working fluid as opposed to our life which uses water. (It would presumably live in the ammonium ocean speculated to beneath the ice) that forms Titan's surface. It's only a "little" different because it would still be basically be CHON life but who knows what its metabolism would run on?

Finally he even mentions the possibility of a SILICON based life (as opposed to our carbon based life). No, unlike the star trek Horta from "Devil in the Dark', it needn't live deep underground. Instead it would life in some of the ethane-methane lakes at the surface (which would be capable of making the silicon soluble and would substitue in for carbon I guess). So all of life's components; fats, sugars, proteins, RNA and DNA would use silicon as a major structural component. Now that's different!

For these admittedly extremely speculative reasons he suggests Titan should be on our priority list of places to visit. He recommends sending a biochemist/biochemical lab to Titan. Anyway if they found even ONE of the three kinds of life there, it would (even if they were just micro-organisms) be an incredible discovery. Of course because of Titan's distance it'll be a long while before we can put a human there, maybe we'll have to wait for A.I.

Unfortunately as much as I (and many other people including James Cameron) would love to see "black smokers" (geothermal/chemical powered undersea geysers) at Europa, Dr, Ward explains that there is just not enough energy available to Europan life (from the dim sunlight filtering through the ice or the flexing of rocky core by Jupiter's gravitational tides) to drive an ecosystem. I think he claims there would be enough to make, perhaps, 120 tons of biological matter dispersed in a volume twice that of Earth's oceans! A low flying orbiter scanning for molecular signatures in the ice or trying to capture ice crystals kicked up off the surface would likely find nothing. Even if it did find some complex organic molecules (proteins, long carbohydrates or DNA) that would be relatively indirect evidence; there would always be concern about contamination. This is in comparison to a direct observation of life on Titan, we could watch it grow!

That's why we should go to Titan, there may be a higher chance of life be present there NOW than even at Mars (recent methane plumes discoveries notwithstanding). And how cool would it be to send an orbiter AND a balloon AND a lander (or even a boat!).

Disgusting. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26809377)

We can throw as much money as we like at the Halliburtons of this world and rain the national vault to fund wars which enrich our leadership's business cronies. We can use whatever's left over to bailout people so greedy and incompetent that they'll ever change their ways.

But we have to choose between Europa or Titan.

And the next thing.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26809455)

you know, you're gonna see some alien spaceships in Earth's orbit, pissed off because some know-it-all geeks had to explore another planets moon. Really, do the humans think they own everything in the whole damn solar system?

Simple answer... (1)

denzacar (181829) | more than 5 years ago | (#26811077)

Really, do the humans think they own everything in the whole damn solar system?

I don't see no tentacles or feelers raised to answer that question.

I saw we go to Titan (1)

regular_gonzalez (926606) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809489)

"All These Planets Are Yours Except Europa, Attempt No Landing There"
No point pissing off the starchild

It's simple, really... (5, Funny)

nicodoggie (1228876) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809533)

In the book version, we send the thing to Titan. Then when Stanley Kubrick does the movie, send it to Europa!

Re:It's simple, really... (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809599)

In the book version, we send the thing to Titan.

Japetus

Then when Stanley Kubrick does the movie, send it to Europa!

Io.

Re:It's simple, really... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26810489)

In the book version, we send the thing to Titan.

Japetus

Wooshetus.

Then when Stanley Kubrick does the movie, send it to Europa!

Io.

Woosho.

Humans on Mars? (1)

NiteRiderXP (750309) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809541)

More than a decade ago while still in school I was reading some space exploration books for kids. I was obsessed with anything containing science in a digestible manner. All of these books stated that by 2020 humans would be on Mars.

Now the latest Bush policy proposes going to the moon by 2020. Who cares about the moon, we've been there four decades ago. Yes, it could have been faked, but still...

This latest post about sending a robot to one moon or other by 2020 is appalling.

Just dreamin' a bit... (2, Interesting)

hyades1 (1149581) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809551)

Two things: First, a question. What are the orbital mechanics? Would it be possible to build a "bus" that could drop off a navigation-capable "probe taxi" near each destination?

Second, a dream. If ever there was a time to send a large human crew on a career-length mission (maybe 30 - 40 years), this would be the one. High-acceleration supply/instrument packages could be sent before and after them. A serious commitment to zero-gravity construction could be undertaken. The cost would be huge, but the payback would potentially be on a scale rivaling the technology revolution that grew out of Apollo.

And let's face it, the odds that we're screwing up our only livable habitat in potentially-ugly ways are increasing. Developing the capacity to move at least a few people elsewhere isn't such a terrible idea.

Re:Just dreamin' a bit... (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809653)

Second, a dream. If ever there was a time to send a large human crew on a career-length mission (maybe 30 - 40 years), this would be the one.

I agree. Sometimes it is easier to justify the harder projects with ultimately better outcomes. JFK pulled it off with Apollo. I wonder if Obama will see an opportunity to extend US influence to the outer planets.

Re:Just dreamin' a bit... (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 5 years ago | (#26810089)

First, a question. What are the orbital mechanics? Would it be possible to build a "bus" that could drop off a navigation-capable "probe taxi" near each destination?

No.
 
 

Second, a dream. If ever there was a time to send a large human crew on a career-length mission (maybe 30 - 40 years), this would be the one. High-acceleration supply/instrument packages could be sent before and after them. A serious commitment to zero-gravity construction could be undertaken. The cost would be huge, but the payback would potentially be on a scale rivaling the technology revolution that grew out of Apollo.

Given that the technology revolution spawned by Apollo was essentially zero...

Call the spaceship Avenger (1)

bolek_b (246528) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809555)

I would prefer Titan, along the closing lines of one nice book: "Puppet masters -- the free men are coming to kill you! Death and Destruction!" Now that would be a nice preemptive strike on those parasites :-)

Re:Call the spaceship Avenger (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809645)

Great book. If you get a chance to see the movie do yourself a favour and forget it. Its horrible.

Biological testing for the returning crew would be more involved than was used for apollo, I think.

both, plus Venus and Pluto (2, Interesting)

r00t (33219) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809625)

The mountains of Venus would be interesting. Radar reflection suggests that it might rain bismuth or lead.

Landing on Pluto would be a nice challenge. First there is the problem of slowing down enough. Then there is the problem of landing without melting a deep hole.

It's pretty obvious really... (1)

Julz (9310) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809905)

We should go to both ;)

I'm all for Arthur C. Clarke's original novel version of 2001 where we went to Saturn's moon Titan and then in the novel 2010 a joint American/Soviet effort went to Jupiter's moon Europa. And I think it would be fitting to call the craft "Alexei Leonov".

Which one is best for implanting life? (2, Interesting)

Bearhouse (1034238) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809913)

Let's go to the best place for living there some day. (Sounds like neither)

So, we're always careful about not infecting extra-terrestrial ecosystems the way we have here on Earth. We're obsessed with finding some kind of 'life', (but have not so far). Well and good, and I've always supported those points of view.

But we might want to consider the chilling possibility that one day the Earth might become uninhabitable, (asteroid strike, nuclear war, superbug, whatever). OK, it's improbable, but then again so is finding 'life' on some barren, frozen moon.

If that did happen - maybe hundreds of years from now - our descendants would be pretty glad if we'd shipped out bugs that had quietly been transforming methane into oxygen (for example) over the centuries...

Re:Which one is best for implanting life? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26811215)

...asteroid strike, applied science, superbug, whatever...

Fixed that for you ^_^

Several Billion? No problem. (1)

unholy1 (764019) | more than 5 years ago | (#26809921)

a mission to either would cost several billion dollars/euros to build and execute

Pah... that's pocket change compared to the amounts that are being bandied around for "stimulus" & bailouts these days! :\

I'm amazed (2, Funny)

anonymShit (1415181) | more than 5 years ago | (#26810143)

I'm really amazed that no one came up with this simple idea: what happens if there is some kind of primitive microscopic life in any of those worlds, we bring it to Earth, and have a major epidemic?
I can imagine in the news "the Titan victeria(strange alien cross between virus and bacteria) has produced 3000million deaths...govt producing tunnels underground for nonzombie survivors..."

For the sceptics on putting money into this: money into science always pays back, you shouldn't worry. It's only when you put money in the hands of bankers or such scum (brokers, politicians, owners of big firmas...) that you should be worrying. By the way anybody has seen yet any improvement, any difference by the injection of money in the banks? What I see is that OUR money has disappeared into the hands of those robbers. This would never happen with scientific missions (which discover things, create technology, blabla)

Re:I'm amazed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26810947)

The Andromeda Strain [wikipedia.org]

I want to read it again now.

But yes you Sir are correct that The Idiocy Strain is far worse, sad to see the US go.

Nature says Titan (1)

Schiphol (1168667) | more than 5 years ago | (#26810533)

The Nature Podcast [nature.com] -which, by the way, all of you nerds should listen to if you do not already do- covered this story some three weeks ago. They say Titan. Their reasons are, roughly:

* Although Europa is our best bet for an independent origin of life -life on Mars may share causes with life of Earth- studying this would involve intimate measuring below the surface. Drilling in Europa, though, may be a century, and not just two or three decades, away.
* A Titan mission, although unlikely to find life, may more easily and more thoroughly study the surface of the satellite. This has to do with Titan's atmosphere, and the possibility of launching a hot-air balloon to map the surface.
* The third reason: hot-air ballons are cool and romantic. Also, we could for the first time devise a floating lander. More fun and romanticism. Floating on lakes may be a one-off, but ballooning may be useful for many other cellestial bodies in the Solar System.

So, Titan.

Re:Nature says Titan (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#26811033)

Floating on lakes may be a one-off, but ballooning may be useful for many other cellestial bodies in the Solar System.

Ballooning is floating on a lake of a considerably lighter and less dense fluid.

Relative Distances (1)

duane534 (1431259) | more than 5 years ago | (#26810661)

Considering the relative distances between the moons themselves and the distance between the moons and Earth, wouldn't it make more sense to do BOTH with one craft?

Probability of Life (1)

Collinp6 (1456711) | more than 5 years ago | (#26810905)

I think that probably Titan is the most likely to have life, if any of them do, because of its atmosphere.
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