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NASA's Jupiter moon mission gets a super-retro name

NASA's official name for its Europa moon mission turns back the clock to evoke a time when masted ships flew across the oceans.

Jupiter's moon Europa beckons a new NASA mission.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

NASA has some questions about the potential habitability of Jupiter's fascinating icy moon Europa and it hopes a new mission will help answer them. That mission now has an official name: Europa Clipper.

The name has nothing to do with coupons, but rather references an old-school type of sailing ship. The space agency revealed the formal name on Thursday.

NASA offers up this history lesson: "The moniker harkens back to the clipper ships that sailed across the oceans of Earth in the 19th century. Clipper ships were streamlined, three-masted sailing vessels renowned for their grace and swiftness. These ships rapidly shuttled tea and other goods back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean and around globe."

The Europa Clipper spacecraft will zip past the moon multiple times, gathering data and images as it goes. NASA expects it will engage in at least 40 flybys.

Europa is especially intriguing due to a hidden saltwater ocean below its frozen crust. Scientists have also seen evidence of what may be water vapor plumes erupting from the surface. Researchers are curious if Europa might host the building blocks of life, or even microorganisms.

Europa Clipper is scheduled to sail away into space in the 2020s. It will take several years for it to reach Europa and begin its investigations, but the results should be fascinating.

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