When Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) lost his seat on Tuesday, NASA lost one of its biggest fans in Congress. And many in the science community are now wondering about the fate of one of the congressman’s pet projects — a lander to travel to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. Culberson has long had a fascination with searching for life on Europa, and as the chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee that funds NASA, he has been in the unique position to appropriate money specifically for a lander. Now that Culberson is about to leave public office, the Europa lander will no longer have its champion, making its future at NASA uncertain. NASA never formally requested a lander for Europa, and the president’s latest budget request noted that the administration had no intention of funding such a program. No other lawmaker seems to be as passionate about the project, nor in the same position to keep the program alive. Plus, there are some in the science community who wouldn’t be upset to see the mission go. In fact, a few experts are concerned that sending a lander to Europa right now is premature, as we don’t know enough about the moon’s surface to successfully touch down on it. And there’s frustration over the fact that the lander was born from a politician rather than scientific consensus. “The Europa lander was always Culberson’s,” Emily Lakdawalla, the senior editor at The Planetary Society, tells The Verge. “It’s a mission that came out of Congress… [Read full story]
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