NASA is testing an all-terrain slithering robot to explore tunnels, glaciers, and snowdrifts on Saturn’s icy moon of Enceladus.
The 13-foot-long (4 meter) machine is called EELS, or the Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor, owing to theories that the icy-covered world of Enceladus may have a subsurface ocean of liquid water—one of the solar system’s best places to look for signs of extraterrestrial life.
For nearly 30 years, robotic rovers have retained the same buggy-shape and design, from the original Pathfinder Rover in 1996 to Perseverence in 2021.
But these have been designed to travese deserts like the Moon and Mars—covered in a loose mixture of sand and crushed rock known as regolith. Enceladus presents an entirely different set of challenges.
“It has the capability to go to locations where other robots can’t go. Though some robots are better at one particular type of terrain or other, the idea for EELS is the ability to do it all,” Matthew Robinson, EELS project manager, says in the statement.
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