Subscribe to our free daily newsletters
. 24/7 Space News .

Subscribe to our free daily newsletters

Digging For Life On Mars

With as much land surface as Earth, picking a spot to land and dig won't be easy
by Mark Schrope
for New Scientist
Pasadena - Sept. 16, 2000
Find liquid water on Mars, and life may not be far behind. Many scientists believe that this water can only exist thousands of metres beneath the planet's surface.

So a team of engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is developing a robotic mole that can drill deep into Mars and return samples to the surface through a tube that it constructs as it digs.

JPL's Martian mole moves through the ground like a piledriver, repeatedly raising an internal weight and then hammering it into the ground. On Mars it will be wired up to a set of solar panels on the surface that provide only enough power to illuminate a few light bulbs. So the designers had to make a machine that could penetrate the ground using only this meagre power.

The design JPL came up with has a hammer head that spins at up to 20 000 revolutions per minute before engaging a central thread that drives it into the ground. This delivers roughly twice the force of a sledgehammer blow on Earth, and enables the mole to burrow at up to 10 metres per day.

As it digs, the mole extrudes a tiny tube containing two passageways which provide a link to the surface and back. Liquid xenon circulating through these tubes will carry samples that can be sieved and analysed on the surface.

One possible target for the mission is a potential aquifer that many scientists believe may exist about 5 kilometres down near the Martian equator, says Brian Wilcox, the project leader. Another option is to aim for one of the planet's polar ice caps and study Mars's climate history over the past few million years by examining ice samples.

The group has already built a prototype of the hammer mechanism and is now planning the tube extruder. In 2002, Wilcox plans to test the complete system in the Alaskan permafrost. He says his team could be ready to tackle Mars within a decade.

"Drilling may well be the only way we can get to places that have a chance of having life on Mars today," says Michael Carr, a geologist at the US Geological Survey who is reviewing NASA's Mars programme.

This article appeared in the September 16 issue of New Scientist New Scientist. Copyright 2000 - All rights reserved. The material on this page is provided by New Scientist and may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written authorization from New Scientist.

Related Links
Search SpaceDaily
Subscribe To SpaceDaily Express

Martian Life Would Need A Dose Of Antioxidants
Pasadena - Sept. 22, 2000
Intense ultraviolet radiation that pierces Mars' thin atmosphere produces an abundance of oxygen ions, a common free radical, at the Martian surface that destroys organic molecules - - the building blocks of life -- according to researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Thanks for being here;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.

SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once

credit card or paypal
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5 Billed Monthly

paypal only

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2016 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement All images and articles appearing on Space Media Network have been edited or digitally altered in some way. Any requests to remove copyright material will be acted upon in a timely and appropriate manner. Any attempt to extort money from Space Media Network will be ignored and reported to Australian Law Enforcement Agencies as a potential case of financial fraud involving the use of a telephonic carriage device or postal service.