Engineering Methods for Europan Relevant Biosignature Development 2004-01-2410
One of the primary driving forces for space exploration in the foreseeable future is astrobiology, and specifically the search for a plausible sign of life beyond Earth. Because of the size of the potential saltwater ocean involved, Europa is potentially the most interesting, and possibly the only, currently viable (for life) environment in the solar system. It also presents the possibility of remote sensing evaluation for presence or absence of biotic and/or pre-biotic organic material. The material of interest is the non-ice (referring to water ice) surface material near features that have the potential of being in recent communication with the postulated ocean below. An analysis of this material using a full range of inorganic, pre-biotic organic, and metabolically relevant biologic materials as spectrum calibrating target materials, examined under Europan surface conditions, is a daunting proposition. A comprehensive attempt is still pending.
This study involves the collection and growth of psychrophilic (low temperature), halophilic (high salt), anaerobic cultures in high sulfate environments. These cultures are intended as reflected spectrum target materials, based on relevant biomass, for comparison to Europan non-ice surface materials. The selection, collection, development (growth) and examination of this biotic material (biomass) requires the use of stringent, and in some cases extreme, environmental controls. It also requires the extrapolation of standard environmental engineering sampling and laboratory analysis procedures for use in comparison with, and interpretation of, data from a profoundly extreme and unfamiliar environment. The function of this study is to demonstrate the use of environmental engineering techniques and processes (test methodology) necessary to develope a reasonable biosignature related to the Europan target environment.