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Zoe robot returns to Chile’s Atacama Desert On NASA mission to search for subsurface life

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Posted June 12, 2013
The Zoe robot will use a one-meter drill, shown here protruding above the robot's solar cell deck, to search for subsurface life in Chile's Atacama Desert. Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute and the SETI Institute are leading the NASA-sponsored field experiment. Credit: Carnegie Mellon University

The Zoe robot will use a one-meter drill, shown here protruding above the robot’s solar cell deck, to search for subsurface life in Chile’s Atacama Desert. Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute and the SETI Institute are leading the NASA-sponsored field experiment. Credit: Carnegie Mellon University

The autonomous, solar-powered Zoë, which became the first robot to map microbial life during a 2005 field expedition in Chile’s Atacama Desert, is heading back to the world’s driest desert this month on a NASA astrobiology mission led by Carnegie Mellon University and the SETI Institute. This time, Zoë is equipped with a one-meter drill to search for subsurface life.

As before, Zoë will be testing technologies and techniques that will be necessary for exploring life on Mars. NASA’s Curiosity rover is finding life-friendly areas on the Red Planet and the space agency now is deciding how best to equip a rover set to follow in Curiosity’s tracks in 2020.

“Direct evidence of life, if it exists, is more likely underground, beyond the current reach of rovers,” said David Wettergreen, research professor in Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute and the principal investigator for the Life in the Atacama project. So Zoë has been fitted with a drill made by Honeybee Robotics than can bore deep into the ground.

“Chances improve with greater depth but we are first developing one-meter capability and integrating with a mobile robot,” Wettergreen added.

The robot’s auger will dredge up soil samples that can be analyzed with several on-board instruments. One of these is the Mars Microbeam Raman Spectrometer, an early candidate for the 2020 Mars mission, which can analyze mineral and elemental composition of soil.

Read more at: Phys.org

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