Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

The Space Mission to Europa

GEOPHYS 54N

Jupiter’s icy moon Europa is thought to harbor a global ocean beneath a kilometers-thick ice shell and is a leading candidate in the search for life in our solar system outside of Earth. NASA’s upcoming Europa Clipper mission would place a spacecraft into orbit around Jupiter and investigate the habitability of the moon through a series of flyby observations using a suite of nine geophysical instruments. This mission and those instruments have been selected and are in the process of planning and development. In this seminar, the mission to Europa will be the center around which to explore the intersection of science, engineering, management, economics, culture, and politics involved in any modern “big science” enterprise.

I am a participant in this enterprise, and because the mission is in the planning stages it offers an exciting opportunity for actual discussions and decisions. You will have the opportunity to engage with the principal investigators (PIs), or mission leadership. You will also have some decision-making activities that allow you to engage with the actual trades, concerns, and perspectives that teams working on the mission are concerned with.

We will discuss the motivating planetary science, the physics and technology enabling the observations, the organizational structures and processes by which the mission is managed, and the role of professional identity, value, language, and culture in all of the above. We will engage with questions such as: "What is the difference between science and engineering? How do you know when an instrument’s performance is ‘good enough’?" And finally “Who actually ‘makes the discovery’ when the first results are published?”

Meet the Instructor(s)

Dustin Schroeder

Dustin Schroeder is an assistant professor of geophysics in the School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences and (by courtesy) of Electrical Engineering. He works on the fundamental problem of observing and understanding the configuration and evolution of ice sheet boundary conditions using ice-penetrating radar. His work informs estimates of future sea level rise and the habitability of icy moons. Before coming to Stanford, he was a radar engineer with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech. He is a science team member for radars on NASA’s Europa Clipper and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter missions. He received his Ph.D. in geophysics from the University of Texas at Austin.