Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Mars Space Science

Robots To Go Spelunking In Martian Caves? 80

Posted by samzenpus
from the robby-the-caving-robot dept.
astroengine writes "Scientists are beginning to sketch out plans for NASA's new Mars rover Curiosity to climb Mount Sharp, but future robots may have a more direct way to access the planet's history books. Recent discoveries of 'skylights' and lava tubes on the surface of Mars, as well as the moon, are sparking the development of robotic probes that can descend into caves and explore tunnels. 'Geology works in layers, so how many layers can you see? Well, we know there are sinkholes on Mars. Those sinkholes expose potentially hundreds of feet of layers, so if you could lower something down and examine those layers and explore a tunnel underneath, or anything of that sort, the science that can be done with that is just phenomenal,' Jason Derleth, senior technology analyst with NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts Program, told Discovery News."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Robots To Go Spelunking In Martian Caves?

Comments Filter:
  • by ackthpt (218170) on Monday August 27, 2012 @05:09PM (#41141907) Homepage Journal

    Pie in the sky, if budget slashers come into power in a couple months. Heck, they'll probably put Houston, Edwards and Cape Canaveral on the block - "Private industry can do it more better!"

    Yuh.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I saw this earlier and this thought immediately came to mind: Why send probes on dangerous cave missions when a machine that bores holes and analyses the sample could be built instead?

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      I saw this earlier and this thought immediately came to mind: Why send probes on dangerous cave missions when a machine that bores holes and analyses the sample could be built instead?

      That's effectively what we're in the middle of, but it still takes a lot of support to make these happen and one screw up on unit conversion and throw away one massive outlay and years of support. Sending a team of people there would certainly accelerate things, but who wants to give up a few years on Earth to go there and back? (Not that it wouldn't be an adventure!) It's a long time with your team and you'd better all be able to get along.

      I like Curiosity and hope it learns a lot for us. Sometimes just

    • by icebike (68054) *

      I saw this earlier and this thought immediately came to mind: Why send probes on dangerous cave missions when a machine that bores holes and analyses the sample could be built instead?

      Exactly.

      Further, lava tubes, oddly enough, are lined with lava.
      Not that informative.

      A German designed drill is scheduled for the next lander in 2016 [washingtonpost.com] and drill 16 feet into the surface.
      Nothing you can put in a cave will be able come close to that, and at best it might be able to drill a few inches into solid lava.

      • The caves are 10 meters or more deep...
      • by careysub (976506)

        I saw this earlier and this thought immediately came to mind: Why send probes on dangerous cave missions when a machine that bores holes and analyses the sample could be built instead?

        Exactly.

        Further, lava tubes, oddly enough, are lined with lava. Not that informative.

        A German designed drill is scheduled for the next lander in 2016 [washingtonpost.com] and drill 16 feet into the surface. Nothing you can put in a cave will be able come close to that, and at best it might be able to drill a few inches into solid lava.

        The hole named "Jeanne" here is more than 178 meters deep, no way a drill can come close to that. And many of the holes detected on Mars are not lava tubes but sink holes, i.e. created by some process of erosion. This is often involves water, and "follow the water" is exactly what Mars exploration wants to do. We are much more likely to find interesting water-related geology and chemistry hundreds of meters down a water-erosion tunnel than a few meters down under the surface.

    • I think it would be cool to send a rover with several model helicopers on board. The helicopters could be sent out to do recon missions and check out interesting things quickly and see if they are actually interesting enough to move the whole rover over there. They could descend into caves to scope things out, and maybe have a range of a KM or more. Easier said then done, I know. I just think it would be cool.
      • by quasius (1075773)
        Are helicopters even reasonable in the thin Martian atmosphere? I assume it would still be possible, but the rotors would have to spin way faster and require much more energy.
        • I don't know, but I thought that as well. You would have less gravity, but also a lot less air. That would mean less lift, but also less (propeller) drag, so you could spin the propellers faster with less energy. My guess is that you would have more motor losses becuase of the increased speed, but otherwise similar energy requirements....
        • by Lanteran (1883836)

          Not really. Considering that the Martian atmosphere is something like 0.5% of the thickness of earth's, while the gravity is only lower by a little over 60%, it would take so much energy that it's really not possible with our current energy budget for spacecraft.

          However, blimps or even zeppelins would be damn near ideal because of low gravity. Simpler and cheaper, too.

      • Unfortunately, helicopters(or even fixed-wing aircraft) are likely to be substantially harder on Mars.

        The lower gravity is a nice bonus; but there is practically nothing to fly in. One 'standard' atmosphere on earth is a trifle over 100,000Pa. On Mars, just over 1200Pa is about the highest pressure known, with lows below 100Pa.

        There are probably parts of Mars where a suitably designed atmospheric aircraft could operate, given that the gravity is a good deal lower and there is some atmosphere to work with; b

        • Wouldn't an inflatable type air craft be perfect for that scenario?
          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Exactly the opposite. The denser the air the more mass you displace with your balloon.

        • by jespley (1006115)
          There is a proposal floating (haha) about for an airplane at Mars. It was a finalist in the last Mars Scout (i.e. relatively small/cheap missions) selection but was not selected. http://marsairplane.larc.nasa.gov/ [nasa.gov]
    • Re:Core Samples? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by MightyMartian (840721) on Monday August 27, 2012 @05:43PM (#41142375) Journal

      To my mind, what would be more interesting would be a mission to one of the deeper canyons in Valles Marineris, where atmospheric pressure will be considerably higher, and where, perhaps, some layers may in fact be exposed. Lava tubes on Mars are likely to be as informative as lava tubes on Earth; in other words not so much from learning geological history per se.

      • by BancBoy (578080)

        Mod Up Informative, just noticed his/her username!

        • Nah, he/she/it must know where all the Martians are hiding - in the lava tubes.

          Ignore his/her/its attempts to mislead our might Earthly robotic investigators!

    • by djl4570 (801529)
      An interesting idea that would require epic engineering. You can drill one length of shaft, then you'll need robots to do what a driller, roughnecks and worm do on a rig. The probe would require a substantial power supply to bore cores out of rock. Cooling and lubricating the drill bit without water would be an engineering challenge.
    • by mbone (558574)

      The Phoenix based drill they are talking about would go down 2 meters or so, which is about as far as the Apollo astronauts drilled too. It would take many missions (i.e., many decades) to develop a deep drilling capability, while probably one mission could put some sort of micro-rover in a cave, saving perhaps 20 years.

      And of course, there is the entire biological aspect of cave systems, which I am posting on directly.

    • by Patch86 (1465427)

      Because drilling dozens of miles into solid rock isn't exactly trivial. Doable, obviously, but it'd be very difficult to move a colossal drilling rig out to Mars, set it up, and have it drill consistently for months at a time. Remember that Curiosity, the biggest and most complicated lander ever sent to Mars, is slightly smaller than a Mini Cooper and can roll along at a top speed of centimetres per second.

      Far easier to go down a convenient deep hole than arbitrarily make a new one. Less disruptive too- be

  • Communications (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Baloroth (2370816) on Monday August 27, 2012 @05:15PM (#41141975)

    Communications are going to be a major issue. Gets a lot harder to send a signal out when you have 20+ meters of solid rock overhead. And even if you go down a sink-hole with a direct line of sight upwards, you'd have to send the signal straight up. Only solution I can see would be a repeater at the surface, possibly with a physical cable going down. It's pretty challenging overall.

    All that would be tremendously simplified if we just sent a manned mission. Then a person could just climb down with an actual rope. With reduced gravity, it'd be quite easy (they may even be able to simply jump down and back up again, depending on how deep the hole is.)

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      Communications are going to be a major issue. Gets a lot harder to send a signal out when you have 20+ meters of solid rock overhead. And even if you go down a sink-hole with a direct line of sight upwards, you'd have to send the signal straight up. Only solution I can see would be a repeater at the surface, possibly with a physical cable going down. It's pretty challenging overall.

      All that would be tremendously simplified if we just sent a manned mission. Then a person could just climb down with an actual rope. With reduced gravity, it'd be quite easy (they may even be able to simply jump down and back up again, depending on how deep the hole is.)

      Expect a robotic probe which is highly adaptable. Something which can examine the inside of a cave, make the right choices in moving around and then pop out to send back pictures/data for perhaps going back in to collect some samples or take a closer look at something interesting, i.e. crystal formations, which would certainly indicate something flowed around the surface for a very long time.

    • by cptdondo (59460)

      unreel a fiber optic cable to a surface station, much like a human climber with a rope. Not at all difficult.

      • by ackthpt (218170)

        unreel a fiber optic cable to a surface station, much like a human climber with a rope. Not at all difficult.

        Watch out for that unpredictable snag.

        • Long spools of fiber/wire are old technology. Every heard of wire guided missiles? The trick is put the spool on the probe and leave lots of slack behind you.

    • Or, you just send up a balloon with the data attached. Even multiple balloons for continued research. Or just a few hundred feet of cable. It isn't meant to last forever.

      Communications are the easiest part of the issue. Robots climbing down walls and roving about what is likely a very unstable surface is monstrously hard. Especially if there's monsters!
      • by X0563511 (793323)

        Balloons... in caves? What is that supposed to accomplish?

        • IIRC you have to use the balloon to go up the volcano and get something or other. Remember to tie it off or it will float away. You can use any junk paper to inflate it, but need the matches to light the paper after you put the paper into the tin thingy. Close the thingy to make the balloon go back down.

        • by mbone (558574)

          Skylight == big hole in roof of cave. You need a cable or wireless going from where you are to above the surface.

          I think a static line or a set of routers / repeaters would be better, as it will hard to get much good lift from a Martian balloon, and the winds tend to be pretty stiff.

    • you do realize that the communication issue is still there, right?

      their plan:
      send robot, robot says "i'm going in the cave, talk to you in a few hours".
      a few minutes later, mission control on earth hears the message.
      robot goes down the cave, takes pictures and samples, then comes back up.
      robot says "ok guys, I'm back, here's the pictures, I'll have more on the samples in a few hours".

      your plan:
      send man, man says "i'm going in the cave, talk to you in a few hours".
      a few minutes later, mission control on eart

      • by mbone (558574)

        Mesh communication systems running DTN and MANET can take care of this now. Picture dropping bread crumbs as you go along, except that each is a miniature router.

  • ... when they outfitted them with bulletproof armour.

  • Just have it lob a tethered camera with wings if needed to fly around into the hole, the same way a submersible can send a smaller unit into a ship wreck without risking the mothership.

  • Why do I get this picture of a little green man with a fur loin cloth and a club?
    • Stop talking about your Congressman that way. Some of them have fur kilts and spikes in their clubs, I'll have you know.

  • As usual, sexual activity will drive innovation of spelunking robots.

  • "That's no cave"
  • by wa1hco (37574) on Monday August 27, 2012 @06:45PM (#41143197)

    Very large caves...cavernous spaces. The radiation from Solar flares, Cosmic Rays, etc. means humans need a lot of shielding and that really only comes from a lot of mass between you and the vacuum. If we live on mars, moon or somewhere else, it will have to mean living underground. Earth has a magnetic field and an atmosphere that traps, deflects and degrades most high energy particles (==radiation) before they get to the ground. Other problems solved by caverns include: The moon and Mars change temperature 100C or more between day and night. Micrometeors that make a nice glow as trails at night on Earth act as a 30,000 kph BB gun on the moon. Living outside is very bad for your health.

    I really want to see what a 100 meter wide, kilometer long cavern looks like from inside. The roof is 100 meters or more thick and has survived for billions of years. It should not be too hard to seal and pressurize it. The first images from a camera lowered into such a huge cavern, with the right lighting. will be stunning and will change the way we view living in space.

    • I was thinking along the same lines, what a perfect habitat! You could always build observation towers that extended up beyond the caves to get your fix of looking out the window.

      I only hope that in the next few decades we do see a manned mission, although I suspect the effort will be private rather than funded by a government.

    • mankind, came out of the caves...

      invented agriculture, toolmaking, metalworking, writing, reason, science, machinery, engines, mastered the atom, aircraft, spaceflight...

      so he can go live in a cave again

      poetic

    • So, we're going all the way to another planet, just so we can live in the basement again.

    • by Phigrin (645909)
      If we could just send a manned mission already. NASA has the budget and capability. Yes they would be there forever, but with some good caves this would be doable. Never underestimate the resourcefulness of someone living on a new planet. :)
  • The real interest here is biological. Caves will protect whatever is inside from UV radiation and cosmic rays, and will also trap water (and may even be warm, due to geothermal heating). That makes them of high biological interest. The geology would just be an added bonus. (Note that the geology may not even be super compelling - the lava tube I have personally seen was just one unit of lava, with no layers or anything very revealing. I think that's pretty common for lava tubes, and who knows if there are a

  • Nobody has linked to earlier articles on Lunar and Martian Caves, so here goes. Nasa Science News Rabbit Holes [nasa.gov], Caves in Copernicus Crater [behindtheblack.com], Mars cave entrance [wikipedia.org].
  • Nothing like a good cave adventure... Remember to bring the lamp!

  • Normally, I am opposed to doing the moon as a 'test-bed' for mars. They are totally different areas. Small atmosphere vs. next to none. Likewise, the moon has some of the wildest temp extremes going in the solar system. So, normally, the moon is NOT a good testbed. But caves are a different issue. Deep caves on the moon will have a much higher and more constant temperature due to the moderation of the ground. As such, it makes good sense to start this on the moon first. This will allow communication, tempe

Forty two.

Working...