Funding for the Europa Lander that would touch down on Jupiter’s icy moon following a close survey by the Europa Clipper is still up in the air. However, according to the New Scientist, NASA is teaming up with the European Space Agency to craft a mission to Europa that would include a lander and an orbiter. The Europa Clipper would orbit Jupiter but would fly by Europa multiple times to get a close look in advance of the follow-on mission to land on the ice-bound world.

The Joint Europa Mission, as it is called, would launch in the mid-2020s. Six years later it would arrive in Jupiter space.

The lander would touch down at a site that had been selected by the Europa Clipper. The orbiter would examine Europa from close in, using laser, magnetic, and seismic measuring devices to determine the structure of Jupiter’s icy moon. Then the orbiter will crash onto the ice-crusted surface and, along the way, gather and transmit data about the atmosphere, especially attentive to whether carbon dioxide and oxygen, indicative of life, are present.

Besides the Europa Clipper, the ESA is planning the JUICE or JUpiter Icy Moons Explorer to explore the major moons of the largest planet in the solar system. NASA is providing a number of instruments for that mission. China is also planning a mission to Jupiter in the next decade.

Europa and other icy moons of the outer planets such as Saturn’s Enceladus have become of great interest to scientists because of their potential as abodes of life. Europa has an icy crust covering an ocean warmed by tidal forces from Jupiter, That ocean may be teaming with life, even if the light of the sun has never touched it.

Similar organisms exist at the bottom of Earth’s oceans.

Funding right now for a Europa lander is up in the air. No money has been allocated for such a mission in President Trump’s first budget proposal for FY2018. However, whether the president favors landing on Europa or not may be less important than the fact the Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas supports it.

Culberson, who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, has been a warm supporter of exploring Europa for over a decade. As a congressman from the Houston area, Culberson can be expected to support NASA. However, he seems to be genuinely enthusiastic about space exploration for its inherent benefits and not just as a means to service his district. The exploration of Europa will have little impact to the Johnson Spaceflight Center, nevertheless when the Europa Clipper and the Joint Europa Mission fly it will be in large part because of John Culberson.