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ExoLance: Shooting Darts At Mars To Find Life

Unknown Lamer posted about two weeks ago | from the lance-it-from-orbit-just-to-be-sure dept.

Mars 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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50 comments

ExoComp, er, Lance! (2)

just_another_sean (919159) | about two weeks ago | (#47477291)

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

Re:ExoComp, er, Lance! (1)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | about two weeks ago | (#47477373)

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"

But it's just a misunderstanding! (5, Funny)

pr0t0 (216378) | about two weeks ago | (#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.

Re:But it's just a misunderstanding! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47477837)

Re:But it's just a misunderstanding! (1)

ComputersKai (3499237) | about two weeks ago | (#47479719)

Breaking News! Convenient yet Cliche Solution to the Weapons Disarmament effort is closer than you may think...

Re:But it's just a misunderstanding! (1)

saramakos (693903) | about two weeks ago | (#47480889)

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 surely, they drew their plans against us.

Please, stop! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47477355)

It's bad enough We bomb Our planet. Now, We're going to start bombing another planet in the hopes We find evidence it belongs to Someone Else? What Twit came up with this idea?

Re:Please, stop! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47477461)

Expect a communique shortly from K'breel, speaker for the council, condemning this aggression from the blue planet.

Re:Please, stop! (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about two weeks ago | (#47477541)

Let's hope it's K'breel and not Heinlein's martians. Those suckers almost completely vaporized Fifth planet out of aesthetic necessity - all that's left is a small ring of rubble.

could be worse... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47478351)

It could be worse than that even.

The last time I saw a ground piercing spike delivered from space (ok, on the telly), these damned predators came out. What if they accidentally fail and rain back down on Earth?

Arnie's getting on, I don't know if he'd be up to it these days.

We. Would. Be. Screwed.

Re:Please, stop! (1)

aevan (903814) | about two weeks ago | (#47479207)

Good news! We found evidence of life on Mars!
Bad news... it'll take 3 years for the relief ships to get there to help the survivors.

If it works (1)

WormholeFiend (674934) | about two weeks ago | (#47477365)

I can see this tech also being used on Europa (and bombing doesn't count as "landing").

Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47477383)

Too deep? They should send some of that magical asteroid mining equipment we supposedly have. It's so easy if you listen to the nerds on here.

Re:Huh? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47478405)

You just launch a 3D printer at the asteroid in a self-driving car and the 3D printer will print the mining equipment on the asteroid from the asteroid and mine the asteroid. Control the entire thing from the Oculus Rift. In 3D. 3D print the Oculus Rift.

In a self-driving car.

In space.

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47478917)

Powered by helium 3!!!

Hilarious, I like your reply. You get it.

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47481053)

You've forgotten to put a Raspberry Pi in it.

Well.. revived an idea (4, Informative)

rijrunner (263757) | about two weeks ago | (#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).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_Space_2

http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/nmc/spacecraftDisplay.do?id=MARS96D

Re: Well.. revived an idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47477581)

If only they had leveraged existing technology...
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawn_darts

Re:Well.. revived an idea (3, Informative)

NoKaOi (1415755) | about two weeks ago | (#47477753)

The ExoLance folks don't seem to claim that the idea of going below the surface is novel, only the "news" article does that. It is apparent, however, that their ideas for the design are different from DS2:
http://exploremars.org/exolanc... [exploremars.org]

Additionally, their video mentions DS2, they themselves don't say that the idea of subsurface is novel, but that their implementation is.

A lot of ground to cover (1)

Dishwasha (125561) | about two weeks ago | (#47477393)

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.

Re:A lot of ground to cover (1)

CaptainLard (1902452) | about two weeks ago | (#47477807)

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.

Re:A lot of ground to cover (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47479349)

Life spreads.
You can drop one at each pole and one at the equator. If you don't find life at any of those points it isn't going to help to litter the rest of the planet.
Well, you should probably drop one in Valles Marineris too. (Or count it as the one at the equator.)
The more likely outcome is that the measurement methods were incomplete rather than not having enough ground covered. Perhaps we should try to define what we consider life so that we can properly measure it.

Mars Attacks! (0)

hduff (570443) | about two weeks ago | (#47477395)

And if they interpret this as an attack?

Re:Mars Attacks! (2)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about two weeks ago | (#47477515)

And if they interpret this as an attack?

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

Re:Mars Attacks! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47477549)

sales of slim whitman tracks at itunes will skyrocket.

Why not just shoot it near the rovers? (1)

Rinikusu (28164) | about two weeks ago | (#47477407)

Impact dart, have rovers examine the ejecta and the crater? No need to launch anything back...

Re:Why not just shoot it near the rovers? (1)

Gavagai80 (1275204) | about two weeks ago | (#47482441)

We don't have any rovers on Mars equipped to test for life.

Tried before, but the probe failed on launch (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47477411)

The Russian probe Mars 96 was going to try something like this. It carried an RTG powered penetrator alongside the main probe, which was intended to drop from orbit and survive impact, while driving itself deep into the ground.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_96

It would have been a pretty cool mission if it hadn't failed on launch and crashed back to Earth.

Unintended Consequences (1)

l0ungeb0y (442022) | about two weeks ago | (#47477415)

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?

Implementation details (2)

marcello_dl (667940) | about two weeks ago | (#47477425)

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".

Re:Implementation details (1)

marcello_dl (667940) | about two weeks ago | (#47477449)

Uh oh sorry I have another one.
Why sending darts there? Send javascript and wait for the scream.

The Gaia Hypothesis (1)

minstrelmike (1602771) | about two weeks ago | (#47477459)

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 purely scientific proposal, not spiritual or New Agey or anything. Just a new, probably correct way, to understand how life works together to maintain itself.

Re:The Gaia Hypothesis (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about two weeks ago | (#47477595)

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 can render a planet virtually uninhabitable - such as when the blue-green algae first harnessed photosynthesis and virtually eradicated all life on Earth by flooding the atmosphere with highly toxic oxygen.

Re:The Gaia Hypothesis (1)

geekoid (135745) | about two weeks ago | (#47477609)

" 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.

Re:The Gaia Hypothesis (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47478479)

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.

That book was written before we discovered complex lifeforms living around volcanic vents at the bottom of the ocean with no access to atmospheric oxygen.

Omicronian Method (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47477475)

To find life on Earth, some Omicronians believe you might want to look "kick the ant pile" and see if get a reaction. The "ExoLance" project aims to drop ground-penetrating devices, each of which would carry cameras to watch the ensuing panic for signs of life. "One of the benefits of doing this mission is that there is less engineering," said Lrrr, Omincron Supreme Leader. "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 megaton... errr... measurement packages which would increases the chances of finding something."
They will be performing a test run in the Mojave desert to the metaphorical feet are large enough for the ant pile.

automated (1)

geekoid (135745) | about two weeks ago | (#47477599)

nuclear powered backhoe.

Just start digging.

Been there, done that (1)

Squidlips (1206004) | about two weeks ago | (#47477657)

That was already tried by JPL/NASA, but the penetrators failed.

Ideas are not launched (1)

MobyDisk (75490) | about two weeks ago | (#47477695)

so a team of space enthusiasts has launched a more ambitious idea

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

Something is not right here (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47477941)

All the effort to find evidence of live on our closest planet, but scientest are saying they can find an earth like world with no problem (or at least close to it). Why don't they apply those techniques locally. They should try them on Pluto and be able to tell us all about it before the spacefraft arrives there next year.

Inches to Meters? (1)

SandwhichMaster (1044184) | about two weeks ago | (#47478027)

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.

Re:Inches to Meters? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47479045)

I don't see what the problem is. Inches make sense in the first statement and meters (or yards) make sense in the second. You use the best units for the job and those units are often not SI based (despite what the idiots who apparently don't do real engineering work would have one believe). If a few inches is an accurate description, then saying a few cm doesn't quite work - it would be more of a handful of cm. There are some great passages in "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" where SI, Redneck, and other systems of measurement (say, fathoms) are made use of in the same paragraph and make sense.

Re: Inches to Meters? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47479681)

Forget furlongs, I want to know the depth in subway cars.

One question... (1)

ItsJustAPseudonym (1259172) | about two weeks ago | (#47478159)

Did they think of this plan while they were at a pub?

It's not a dart (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47478223)

It's a bicycle

Does anyone really care? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47478865)

Who really cares if they find microbes beneath the surface of Mars? It's pretty obvious by now that if there ever was life on Mars, it never flourished. NASA has such a hard on for this.
Right now, resources would be better spent working to exploit space resources, terraforming and advancing transport technology.

Orbital Strikes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47479547)

Kane is pleased.

Talk to Steve Finberg (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47479689)

Draper Labs designed a "buster bunker" bomb, maybe 20 years ago now? It was made of solid steel, designed to penetrate bunkers and blow up at the right depth. Steve Finberg, one of the managers of MIT's Ham Radio Swap Fest, was instrumental in the electronics design for the instrument package in the test unit and was quite proud of it: show up at the next swap fest and ask him!

Just saying... (1)

ericw12 (3754159) | about two weeks ago | (#47483581)

If someone pierces my roof, I do not think I would react well, just saying...
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