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Subject: Mission to Europa: A Dissenting View rss

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Matt Keyes
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So i'm flipping through my television guide to find something interesting to watch before i get up to do a little bit of solitaire gaming after the house has gone to sleep. Food Network's gone to pot after they ditched the original Iron Chef for a force feeding of Alton Brown and Rachel Ray, AMC doesn't have anything good, IFC looks boring. Military channel has a show about jeeps, yay, whatever.

And then i see it: a show about Europa, perhaps one of Jupiter's most interesting moons. Being a space buff, i don't hestitate to press select on my remote and settle back for some cosmic goodness.

The first part is interesting - discussion about how there is an crust of frozen water ten miles deep on Europa's surface and how the possibility for life underneath that ice in an ocean is, while not probable, at least possible. Fascinating stuff. What i wouldn't give to go into space someday and see some of these beautiful sights out of a porthole in a spaceship.

Then some hotshot scientist gets on and starts talking about a mission to Europa that they are planning. Sounds exciting. He goes on and on about the challenges of landing on a rugged ice surface, etc. etc., and then it hits me.

The guy starts puffing up the mission to Europa, calling it an inventor's challenge or some such praise, and then explains how he is building a probe that will melt through the ice. The other scientists, while not in the same scene, are nodding their heads off, explaning how difficult it will be to land a probe and melt through ten miles of ice.

That's when i hit the roof. What the hell do we have to do with some potentially precious sanctuary orbiting one of the most beautiful objects in our solar system? Instead of being responsible - building technology to study Europa while leaving it undisturbed - we decide to hell with any potential life there... we're gonna see it and leave our trash to contaminate it! i'm mean come on - if i went and chunked a big piece of machinery into the ocean i'd have all kinds of complaints of pollution and dumping. But when it's done on an alien moon, it's okay. Didn't we learn our lesson with the European settlers destroying the "New World" with new diseases and the like?

Maybe i'm overreacting, i don't know, but it really disturbs me that we feel entitled that we *should* do something just because we can. Maybe we should try to be a little bit more responsible? We already dumped one hunk of metal onto Titan and left it there to rot - who cares if it disturbs the environment there, i guess?

Anyways, off my soapbox.
 
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Michael Barlow
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No one takes the time to read anymore.
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I thought "because we can" pretty much sums up the human race.

I love all the planetary missions. Of all the billions of dollars wasted that could go to helping humans live well fed and disease and war free, the space missions are the coolest application of wasted dollars.
 
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Jorgen
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So you're against the advancement of mankind?

Wierdo...
 
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Robert Wesley
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allow 'moi' to lay this "chicken-nugget" upon you folks, so grasp your 'reality' where you may, but what IF...we take out the "middle" classman of our 'equation' where a "monetary" establishment is absent and what happens? Does EVERYTHING "disappear" now? No, it doesn't because the "resources" to manufacture & produce 'thangs' are still around and also, we put our efforts into helping out others with nary a 'mindset' upon "material wealth". So, we don't even BOTHER to apply this here, yet how abouts AWAY from here then? You see, then everyone 'involved' looks at keeping each other alive without trying to screw someone over some 'coinage'? boy, what an 'attitude' to cop and worse is being 'done' right now in fact.
soblue

As for SPACE exploration, then every 'planet' keeps their "nutjorbs" at HOME, and brings their ability to get along with other "weirdoes" and unusual beings that we encounter. Want to 'proselytize'? Keep it at HOME. Want to "greedify"? Keep it at HOME. you 'savvy'?
robot
 
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Matt Keyes
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the_redstar_swl wrote:
So you're against the advancement of mankind?

Wierdo...


Not at all - i'm just for the responsible advancement of mankind. If (and that's an astronomically low-chance big *if*) there is life under the ice of Europa, then what are we doing to its environment by dropping a foreign probe into the waters of Europa (made up of possibly foreign materials and containing bacteria, viruses, etc. - not to mention and pollutants involved in the heating of the object, etc.) and leaving it there? If there is advancement to be made, would it not service us better to be sensible and responsible about how we go about doing it? Or is it advancement at any cost (as Reprint said, "because we can")?

We will have effectively opened up a pristine sanctuary and dropped a little bit of our own muck into it without really taking any consideration beforehand for such an act - so scientists can high-five and say, "Go modern science, amirite?"
 
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shumyum
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All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landing there. Use them together. Use them in peace. -HAL robot

sauron

googoo
 
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Leo Tischer
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The planned Europa probe will be sterile. The contamination problem is part of the project. The probe itself will be sterilized before departure, and even further sterilized by the normal radiation in space and in Jupiter's intense magnetic field. The probe will not introduce anything into Europa's environment that isn't already there (as far as elemental contamination is concerned).

As far as it being a waste of money, this is a typical complaint from people who don't have a good understanding of the magnitude of the expense in comparison to the federal budget, nor an understanding of just how much they get from these programs.

Besides the simple desire to explore and learn about the world, solving the technical problems involved in space flight (manned or unmanned) has a direct benefit to us all in general. Without the advancements from space exploration (and other fundamental types of research funded by the government), you wouldn't have the computer your using to complain about it (at least not one as small as it is), nor much of the software it runs, nor would you have the telecommunications network that you might be hooking up through, nor weather satellites, certain preserved foods, cell phones, and a host of other conveniences that so many people take for granted these days. Much of today's technology would never have been commercialized had not the original research showing its possibility & eventual feasibility been done by NASA or some other government-funded research agency.

In addition, the research & development portion of the federal budget (including NASA) is miniscule. Before waving it off as a waste of money, take a close look at how your tax dollars are allocated and how much true waste there really is.

I'll get off my soapbox now - sorry, but as a research scientist this is a pet peeve of mine.
 
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Matt Keyes
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Leo,

Thanks for the informed response... question: i can understand any kind of bacterial or viral organism being destroyed from radiation, etc. (hadn't thought of that... thanks for the insight!), but what about the probe itself? The heating coils (or whatever) that are used to melt the ice have to get their energy from somewhere, and that somewhere has to be some form of battery, fuel, etc. (i'm assuming). What about decomposition of the elements composing the probe under Europa ice (rust - which may not be likely - or the like)?

My concern is that there are many factors we simply can't understand. Landing a probe on Europa's ice is one thing - there is no atmosphere (or at least very little), so it's not going to affect much. However, putting something into an ocean of water is a very different situation... especially an ocean that is pressurized by ten miles of ice.

Hey, if we could put something down there that would not be harmful in any way, then go for it... i'd love to see the results myself! However, i can't see how we can avoid the potential for harm - at least at this point.

i'm not a research scientist, so i do appreciate your input.

~Matt
 
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Jorge Montero
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I'll take Manhattan in a garbage bag. With Latin written on it that says "It's hard to give a shit these days"
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Given the size of a probe, we'd have to be trying hard to do any significant damage. Sending bacteria that could be viable would be a problem, but poisonous materials from a probe are relatively easy to account for.
 
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David Bush
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Ever heard of Lake Vostok? It's the oldest and most pristine freswhwater lake on Earth. It's in Antarctica, sealed under 4 kilometers of ice. I'ts larger than lake Ontario. Of course this is of interest to anyone planning to drill into Europa. The Russians have been drilling close to it. They say the danger of contamination is minimal. A Google search reveals an ongoing soap opera of sorts, involving potential oil reserves, scientific research, and a transient magnetic anomaly. I'm still looking around for the most recent information...
 
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Jorgen
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Found this on Wikipedia:
Quote:
More ambitious ideas have been put forward for a capable lander to test for evidence of life that might be frozen in the shallow subsurface, or even to directly explore the possible ocean beneath Europa's ice. One proposal calls for a large nuclear powered "Melt Probe" (cryobot) which would melt through the ice until it hit the ocean below. Once it reached the water, it would deploy an autonomous underwater vehicle (hydrobot), which would gather information and send it back to Earth. Both the cryobot and the hydrobot would undergo some form of extreme sterilization to prevent it from detecting earth organisms instead of native life and to prevent contamination of the subsurface ocean. This proposed mission has not yet reached a serious planning stage.
 
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Leo Tischer
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Anything other than biological contamination isn't an issue. No matter what the probe is made of, the elements themselves will already be present in the water. Even here on earth, everything the earth is made of is found in sea water - arsenic, gold, irridium, etc. The rocky core of Europa isn't any different. Most of the construction materials of the probe will be inert (like rubber & polymers), or just dissolve away over time (metals). Even if there are some toxic compounds in the construction, they'll be released so slowly and break down at such a rate so as to have no effect on the ecology - whatever it might be. At any rate, the mass & composition of the probe is so insignificant compared to the area in question that there's no danger. Look at sunken wrecks in our oceans - they don't destroy the local ecosystem. Quite the reverse - they typically become anchor points for more life (and luckily the probe won't be carrying a load of crude oil to spill). Even if it used acid batteries for power, there wouldn't be any significant effect. Leaking acid might keep things from moving in near it for a while, but that'd be about it.

If I recall the mission description correctly, I think the plan called for remote power anyway. The surface lander would be tethered through the ice to the ROV - the power feed would be through this same tether - like the communications. All its electrical power would be coming from the reactor in the surface lander.

 
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