Scientists planning to send robot snake to search for aliens
The Exobiology Extent Life Surveyor (EELS) system is being developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
The extended robot will glide over other terrain as well, thanks to wheels that run along its body.
Its target is the air exhaust system on Saturn's small icy moon Enceladus. However, EELS can be employed on Earth to navigate tricky environments.
NASA's Cassini spacecraft data indicates that Enceladus has a liquid ocean beneath its icy crust.
Plumes from its surface lead directly to liquid water, making it the easiest route to a potentially habitable liquid ocean.
Unlike rover vehicles, EELS will be able to investigate such landscapes by crawling into crevices and swimming in water.
The system uses "first-of-its-kind rotating propulsion units" that function underwater as tracks, gripping mechanisms and
propeller units, enabling the robot to exit a plume vent and propel it to its ocean source
Project manager Dr Martin Robinson says the goal is a platform that can explore anywhere on the Moon, even descending into lava tubes.
The system's adaptability opens up other destinations such as the Martian polar caps, and descending cracks in ice sheets on Earth.
"The current effort involves working with Earth scientists to identify a high-priority, high-impact terrestrial scientific
probe that will also demonstrate the capabilities of EELS in planetary-analogous environments."