Brussels, 15 Mar 2005
The United States has responded with interest to a suggestion by the European Space Agency of a joint mission to Europa, Jupiter's icy moon.
The two parties are keen to follow up the enormous success of the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and Titan, and will establish a joint working group to consider the role that each side could play in a future Jupiter mission, according to reports.
Recalling the Cassini-Huygens mission, David Southwood, ESA's director of science, told the BBC: 'It was a beautiful marriage and we really are looking to do a repeat.' He added that 'Europe could do Europa on its own', but that cooperation with the US is extremely attractive.
Professor Southwood held preliminary discussions with his NASA counterparts in early March, and felt that he had 'definitely piqued their interest'. Negotiations are still at a very early stage, however, and any future mission would launch no earlier than 2016.
Many scientists place a high priority on a mission to investigate Europa. The smallest of the four Jovian moons discovered by Galileo in 1610, Europa is slightly smaller than the Earth's Moon, and researchers speculate that there may be hidden subsurface oceans harbouring micro-organisms.