A future NASA mission to Europa became more likely today with the news that Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) will assume leadership of the House's Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations subcommittee. This committee writes the House's version of the yearly funding bills that include NASA and the NSF, and is extremely influential, particularly for smaller federal agencies like NASA.
Culberson is one of the most vocal proponents of a NASA mission to explore Jupiter's moon Europa, previously helping to provide tens of millions of dollars for crucial pre-project design studies. NASA, under pressure from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), has hesitated in requesting official status for a major Europa mission after slashing hundreds of millions of dollars from the Planetary Science Division.
But with Culberson in charge of the CJS committee, NASA has a strong advocate for this mission who has the power to provide the resources it needs. If NASA requests a mission in the 2016 budget, funding would surely follow. And with the Republican party likely to hold the House for at least the next eight years, so would a certain amount of stability.
Of course, nothing's certain in politics. NASA may yet decline a request for begin a Europa mission next year, or larger issues relating to political standoffs between the Republican congress and the Democratic White House may torpedo budget deals. But just requesting a new start for Europa seems like an easy decision to me: it's bipartisan, has strong scientific backing, and is the kind of bold exploratory mission that truly engages the public. We'll see what the Administration does in its 2016 budget request, which comes out sometime in February of next year, but Europa just got a whole lot more likely today.