NASA has announced that it is testing a new tool that may one day head to Mars to help with the search for life on the Red Planet. The tool is attached to a rover being tested in the Atacama Desert in Chile called ARADS. The tool being tested is a drill that is meant to dig deep under the surface of Mars.
ARADS stands for Atacama Rover Astrobiology Drilling Studies, and it is testing in the Atacama desert because the location is the most Mars-like place on Earth. The new drill is a tool that will dig up soil samples from deep inside the planet that other tools on the rover will analyze in a search for life. The drill was developed in partnership with Honeybee Robotics.
The project in the desert here on Earth is important to get the drill and tools ready to one day head to Mars. NASA wants to know if there was once life on Mars. The planet is known to have had a denser and wetter atmosphere in its distant past.
The planet once had oceans of water, and while evidence of water on its surface has been found, NASA wants to know if that water harbored life. Today the surface of Mars has a thousand times less water than the driest parts of the Atacama desert, which is one of the driest places on Earth.
Part of the test to be conducted with ARADS is to have a portion of the team of scientists remain at the Ames research center to control the rover in Chile from there. That isn’t nearly as far away as Mars, but it’s as good a test as can be performed on Earth. One of the biggest challenges for the drill is determined autonomously if the bit and drill are operating normally. Getting a drill bit stuck on Mars would be the end of the mission.