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ExoLance: Shooting Darts At Mars To Find Life 50

astroengine (1577233) writes To find life on Mars, some scientists believe you might want to look underground for microbes that may be hiding from the harsh radiation that bathes the red planet's surface. Various NASA rovers have scraped away a few inches at a time, but the real paydirt may lie a meter or two below the surface. That's too deep for existing instruments, so a team of space enthusiasts has launched a more ambitious idea: dropping arrow-like probes from the Martian atmosphere to pierce the soil like bunker-busting bug catchers. The "ExoLance" project aims to drop ground-penetrating devices, each of which would carry a small chemical sampling test to find signs of life. "One of the benefits of doing this mission is that there is less engineering," said Chris Carberry, executive director of Explore Mars, a non-profit space advocacy group pushing the idea. "With penetrators we can engineer them to get what we want, and send it back to an orbiter. We can theoretically check out more than one site at a time. We could drop five or six, which increases the chances of finding something." They will be performing a test run in the Mojave desert to see if their design stands any chance of working.
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ExoLance: Shooting Darts At Mars To Find Life

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  • by just_another_sean ( 919159 ) on Thursday July 17, 2014 @03:06PM (#47477291) Journal

    Well as long as they don't spontaneously exhibit signs of evolving [] into living organisms I don't see what else could go wrong.

    • There could be and extremely advanced race of Morlocks living under the surface. Who have ignored us to date and mistakenly think we've declared war on them when we start dropping "rods from god"
    • by pr0t0 ( 216378 ) on Thursday July 17, 2014 @03:57PM (#47477681)

      In the decades past, it was viewed as harmless...even cute when the little golf-cart like robots crawled across the surface doing their little experiments. But then in 2025, Earth attacked. It was without warning or provocation that the vicious spikes penetrated the community, and this action would not go without swift and formidable retribution. So the ships were fueled and armed, and a vast armada launched into the sky and made their way to seek...not revenge, but justice. The Earthlings, with their antiquated detection systems, didn't even notice the approaching fleet with weapons ready to unleash hell.

      But alas, due to a terrible miscalculation of scale the entire battle fleet was swallowed by a small dog, and no justice was served that day or any other.

      Apologies to Douglas Adams.

      • Breaking News! Convenient yet Cliche Solution to the Weapons Disarmament effort is closer than you may think...
      • No-one would have believed in the early part of the 21st century that Martian affairs were being watched from the timeless worlds of space. No one could have dreamed that we were being scrutinized, as someone with a microscope studies creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of that wet stuff from the poles. Few Martians even considered the possibility of life on other planets and yet, across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably superior to ours regarded this Mars with envious eyes, and slowly and surel
  • I can see this tech also being used on Europa (and bombing doesn't count as "landing").

  • by rijrunner ( 263757 ) on Thursday July 17, 2014 @03:17PM (#47477387)

    Just for clarification, the Russians and the US have launched penetrator missions before for Mars. They were unsuccessful. (The russians failed to achieve orbit insertion, IIRC and the US ones failed on impact).

  • It would be nice to see in the article where the enthusiasts intend on dropping their probes. With Mars's landmass being equivalent to the Earth's, that's a lot of ground to cover. It's my understanding that the poles are more likely to harbor life from trapped H2O and CO2 and by their location should receive less solar radiation.

    • Maybe they're just starting out with proving the design. From what I've read, all recent mars landing sites have been vetted by years of study by competing teams of researches and finally selected by expert committees based on maximum potential of interesting results.
  • And if they interpret this as an attack?

    • And if they interpret this as an attack?

      Then we swap the probes for tungsten rods and "defend ourselves."

  • Obligatory project Thor link: []
  • Impact dart, have rovers examine the ejecta and the crater? No need to launch anything back...

  • Dropping darts onto the denizens of another planet could result in starting an interplanetary war with a highly advanced race of microscopic life forms. Is satisfying mere "scientific curiosity" really worth the risk?
  • by marcello_dl ( 667940 ) on Thursday July 17, 2014 @03:22PM (#47477425) Homepage Journal

    For you slashdotters, the two return codes of the experiment:
    0: "There is no life here".
    1: "There used to be life here, too bad I crashed into it".

  • I think anyone looking for life on Mars should read The Gaia Hypothesis. It was written by an inventor hired by NASA to build devices to discover life on Mars. He researched how life works and realized it (life in general) must control the atmosphere in order to survive for billions of years. The exotic bacteria living in the Antarctic or in Yellowstone Hot Springs still depend on free oxygen and other volatiles created, and maintained over hundreds of thousands of years, by other forms of life. It's a pur
    • And what does that have to do with life on Mars? Clearly if it ever existed in a form similar to on Earth something happened to wipe it out. Life may be necessary for perpetuating the conditions in which life can exist, but it's hardly sufficient. Shut off a planet's magnetic field and life is extremely unlikely to be able to continue making the surface livable. Unless of course it likes receiving large doses of UV and ionizing radiation while breathing vacuum.

      Besides which we're also pretty sure life c

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      " He researched how life works "
      " it (life in general) must control the atmosphere in order to survive for billions of years."

      "probably correct way"
      you seem to be treeting it like new age people treat cruystals.

      a book, by one guy.

  • nuclear powered backhoe.

    Just start digging.

  • That was already tried by JPL/NASA, but the penetrators failed.
  • so a team of space enthusiasts has launched a more ambitious idea

    I don't think that word means what you think it does.

  • Did anyone else cringe reading the summary? "...rovers have scraped away a few inches at a time, but the real paydirt may lie a meter or two below the surface"

    If it's not in furlongs, the unit is meaningless to me.

  • Did they think of this plan while they were at a pub?
  • If someone pierces my roof, I do not think I would react well, just saying...

A committee is a group that keeps the minutes and loses hours. -- Milton Berle