Top Scientist Says Of Discovering If Life Exists Beyond Earth

One of the moons of Jupiter has a global ocean beneath its crust that could contain more than twice as much water as Earth. There are at least half a dozen of these ocean worlds in our solar system alone and where there is a water, there may be answers about the potential for life across the universe.


NASA has two major, decade-long projects in the works that require Congress to provide steady funding for space exploration. One would launch a new Mars rover in 2020, loaded with instruments to search for signs of ancient Martian life and to collect rock samples to send back to Earth. Earlier this month, the NASA space probe New Horizons completed its historic flyby of Pluto.

NASA has received only a tiny amount of data back so far it is going to take 16 months to get it all, as it travels across 3 billion miles of space but there have already been surprising discoveries. The other would send a spacecraft to Jupiter in the 2020s to orbit the planet for three years, providing opportunities for close flybys of Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons that scientists believe has the potential to host life in its ocean. Like the Mars mission, the broader goal of the Europa mission is to determine if it’s habitable for human life.

Braun said, “Now is the time to organize and initiate a series of robotic missions focused on the fundamental questions of evolution, habitability and life across our solar system’s ocean worlds.” Dr. John Grunsfeld said, “Are we alone? Many, many people on planet Earth want to know,” a physicist and former astronaut who now leads NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “We are on the cusp of being able to answer that question because of the investments we are making in space technology.”

Scientists criticized the House committee in May for voting to slash NASA’s budget for Earth Sciences missions by $300 million. The White House has already threatened to veto the GOP bill for cuts to those missions and NASA’s commercial crew program, among other items.

Republicans seem to have a soft spot for space exploration, though. Their bill would boost spending for planetary science, despite the other cuts.