Getting stuck in

Proposals submitted by the UK Penetrator Consortium (led by a UCL group at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory) under the ESA Cosmic Vision program envisage half-metre-long “micro-penetrators” being deployed from orbiters and directed at around 300 m/s straight down into the top few metres of the surface of unsuspecting Solar System bodies. They have included “MoonLITE”, in which interesting parts of our own Moon would be impacted by four penetrators, and later ideas for gathering data from moons of Saturn and Jupiter. At the moment, though, they’re still just proposals . . .

Look out, Enceladus! Look out on Titan!,
Look out, the Moon’s old regolith dust!
They’re planning to fire a whopping great bullet
To penetrate into your unwary crust.

Europa, as well, is a possible target –
The Jovian moon with a cold icy shell
Whose surface has cracks, caused by huge tidal forces,
Through which might leak water – organics as well?

“Is it life, Jim, but not as we know it, perhaps?”
Is one question they really would like to get solved:
Not Little Green Men; but molecules instead –
Indicators that life of some sort has evolved.

On the Moon, they’d be looking for evidence of water,
Especially in craters lying close to its poles,
And probing the far side’s untested geology
With their sleek high-velocity ESA moles.

But maybe the whole thing is not going to happen –
Will it lie dormant, along with MoonLITE?
Can Europe support such a grand ‘Cosmic Vision’
When government cash is so terribly tight?

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