NASA to test robot in Antarctica for extra-terrestrial exploration

Robie de Guzman

Sydney – The United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will test an under-ice robot during Antarctica’s summer with a view to using it to look for extra-terrestrial life on one of Jupiter’s moons in 2025.

The one-meter (three feet) long robotic rover is buoyant and has two wheels to operate on the under-side of ice, the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) said in a statement.

“The rover is unique in that it uses buoyancy to stick to the underside of the ice and move upside-down using wheels, so it can get up close to the ice-water interface for sensitive measurements,” NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer Andy Klesh said.

The robot has already been deployed in Alaska and the Arctic and will be tested in Antarctica at Australia’s Casey research station for three weeks.

Much like a submarine, the rover can remain in one spot for long periods of time without expending energy.

In 2025, NASA plans to send a mission to Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa, believed to be one of the likeliest places in the solar system to find alien life.

“NASA’s Galileo mission to Jupiter in the late 1990s investigated the planet’s moons including Europa. They found strong evidence there was a salty ocean beneath Europa’s thick icy crust, as well as a rocky sea floor,” NASA scientist Kevin Hand said.

“This salty ocean could hold more than twice as much water as Earth and have all the right ingredients to support simple life organisms,” he added.

NASA would have to drill through between 10 to 20 kilometers (6-12 miles) of icy crust before it can reach the water, a matter that has not yet been resolved.

“We don’t really know how to manage this yet, but it’s likely we will have to drop transmission pucks every 100 meters to carry signals from the rover up to a surface base station, before the information is beamed back to Earth via satellite,” Klesh explained. EFE-EPA


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