Whenever President Donald Trump rolls out his space policy, along with his pick for NASA administrator, he will have to pass it through Congress. Sen. Ted Cruz, who is working on a new NASA authorization bill, will be one player in that process. Cruz’s fellow Texas, Rep John Culberson, is another. As PBS recently noted, Culberson’s enthusiasms run beyond what one would think would be for a congressman from Houston near where the Johnson Spaceflight Center is located.
Culberson is a big proponent of exploring Europa, the ice-bound ocean #Moon Of Jupiter, Europa is thought to harbor an ocean beneath a layer of ice that is warmed by the tidal forces exerted by the gas giant Jupiter.
Many scientists believe that the ocean may harbor alien life. Toward the goal of finding out, Culberson has been campaigning to send a probe to the moon of Jupiter for about a decade.
Culberson started to get results when he became the chair of the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA. The Europa Clipper is now on NASA’s manifest to be launched on board a heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket in the early to mid-2020s. A Europa lander is also scheduled, but the Trump administration is trying to cancel that mission.
Europa is not the only “ocean world” of the outer solar system. Enceladus, a #Moon Of Saturn, is another ice-bound world with an ocean beneath. Titan, another moon of Saturn, has oceans of liquid ethane and methane. Pluto, which was recently visited by the New Horizon space probe, is thought to have an interior ocean as well.
Much of the discussion of Trump’s coming space policy consists of the question of whether to continue directly going to Mars or to return to the moon first, with indications that the latter is favored.
But for any space policy to gain the approval of Culberson, is is going to have to contain an active ocean worlds exploration element. Any space policy is going to have to accommodate a number of interests, of which Culberson’s is one.
Sometime within the next ten years, if all goes well, people on Earth will receive images and video of the strangest alien landscape that has ever been visited by either robot or human, an ice-bound landscape that resembles the ninth circle of Hell as imagined by Dante. Because of the intense radiation environment of that part of Jupiter space, humans will not be visiting Europa for a long time. But even before that, the discoveries that may be made could profoundly change how we view our place in the universe. #John Culberson