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Updated with NASA’s new statement at the end.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is asking fans and followers to send their names to Jupiter since it is unlikely that they will make it to the largest planet in the Solar System in person during their lifetimes. NASA plans to send the Europa Clipper observation satellite to Jupiter’s icy Moon in 2024 after awarding the contract to SpaceX a few years back. As part of the mission, the space agency wants those interested to have their engraved names sent to Jupiter’s moon, as it casually informs them that this is the next best thing after an unlikely in person visit to Europa.
Visiting Jupiter Should Be A Hard To Cross Bucket List Item, Says NASA
NASA awarded SpaceX the Europa Clipper contract in July 2021, and it was one of the first contracts that SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy had taken away from the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. The SLS is the world’s largest operational rocket, but back in 2021, it was facing multiple delays and cost overruns that are speculated to be one reason why the Falcon Heavy was chosen in its stead.
The Clipper mission also made headlines in 2020 when it was part of NASA’s budget request for the fiscal year 2021. In this document, the space agency shared that it expected the Europa Clipper spacecraft to have finished construction by November 2023. The primary cost driver for the Clipper was due to SLS’s unavailability, as NASA had estimated that storage costs for the spacecraft could range anywhere between $36 million and $60 million should the SLS be available for launch in 2025.
Additionally, launch costs for the SLS were estimated to be $900 million per launch in 2019, significantly higher than the Falcon Heavy’s price tag of $150 million. However, a benefit of an SLS launch would have been a faster arrival date at Europa, while using the Falcon Heavy would have required the Clipper satellite to make gravity assist turns in space.
Is visiting Jupiter on your bucket list? Let’s face facts, it’s not going to happen. But have we got the next best thing for you! #SendYourName aboard @EuropaClipper when this intrepid spacecraft launches to study Jupiter’s icy moon in ’24.
Sign up today: https://t.co/tyDDEvIszk pic.twitter.com/NV5s2BWKOL
— NASA 360 (@NASA360) October 28, 2023
Now, with 11 months left until the Clipper can launch, NASA is asking for submissions for people to have their names engraved on the satellite for its 1.8 billion mile journey to Europa. Europa is one of the closest to Jupiter out of the 95 moons that orbit the Solar System’s largest planet. Researchers have also hypothesized that the moon might contain extraterrestrial life due to potential oceans present below its surface.
As part of the submissions, the space agency is quick to inform readers that their plans to visit Europa might not happen, and so the next best thing is to stay content by sending their name to the moon on a satellite that is orbiting it. Naturally, NASA 360 followers have not taken kindly to this, and they are quick to remind the space agency that technology can often change in the blink of an eye to make manned Europa missions possible.
Crewed deep space exploration missions are unchartered territory as the moon is the farthest humans have been outside of Earth. These missions often require stringent spacecraft design requirements, particularly the ability of a ship to withstand solar radiation as it passes through regions such as the Van Allen Belts. According to NASA, astronauts “must fly through the Van Allen Belts” for outer space missions, and as of now, no spacecraft is available for longer duration missions.
However, SpaceX’s Starship aims to be a one stop solution for lunar and outer space missions. The firm is currently testing the rocket in Boca Chica, Texas, and it conducted a surprise tanking rehearsal earlier this month that appeared to have ticked off all the items before a launch apart from lighting up the engines themselves.
After a brief furor, NASA is back and it stresses that it is “always reaching for the stars”.
Hey, folks—we goofed up. We want to be clear: we’re always reaching for the stars (and planets and moons), and we want what we do to inspire you to do the same. Never stop dreaming! pic.twitter.com/NLHlKbYzkV
— NASA 360 (@NASA360) October 30, 2023