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Astrobiology in peril April 30, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in Space.
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May the fountains of Enceladus erupt forth with their icy, geysery goodness. As those of you who pay attention to space-related news know the Saturnian moon Enceladus is the newest darling to astrobiologists.

The discovery, by the Cassini spacecraft, of water geysers, a freezing cold version of Yellowstone, on the moon has perked interest in the tiny satellite in the search for extraterrestrial life within the Solar System.

These efforts are, of course, hindered by cuts in the NASA astrobiology budget as well as the deferrment of funding to the inept space shuttle program. Though NASA reportedly restored some $30 million of the $160 million in cuts to the astrobiology budget, it is still a huge decrease. in the FY 07 astrobiology portion of the NASA budget.

Stupid space shuttle.

What we ought to be doing is preparing missions toward the prime targets in our Solar System for life. Among the others are, the venerable Mars, Titan, and Europa. A few other bodies are thought to contain subsurface oceans but this is unconfirmed. Those include Callisto, Ganymede, and possibly Ceres, the largest of the asteroids in the main belt.

An ideal mission to Enceladus might be a robotic rover, much like those sent to Mars, sent to explore the active south polar region of the moon. Perhaps on Titan some kind of robotic aircraft (similar to those used in hurricane research on Earth) could be employed, or even a balloon of sorts. These missions could produce astounding results. Results far more astounding than an 8 man pup tent on the moon or a few people walking around on Mars doing what robots could have done for far cheaper and with significantly less risk.

If I had it my way, (not only would the stupid tornado siren stop testing itself right now, heh) but every orbiter launched would employ some kind of lander, rover or other surface exploring craft.

And thankfully, the siren has stopped. That is all.

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