Some of the biggest space missions of 2023 will teach us more about our solar system’s planets. But NASA has many more logs in the fire than you might expect. One mission that many are excited about will see a NASA-made robotic snake slithering its way through one of Saturn’s moons in search of signs of life.
That snake is the Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor (EELS), and it’s exactly what it sounds like – a long robotic snake that can traverse through different types of terrain, all while adapting to the ocean-world-inspired terrain that is Enceladus. This moon is believed to contain a liquid ocean under its icy crust, and EELS could help astronomers prove such reports.
The massive robotic snake was designed by NASA’s JPL robotics lab, and it is a self-propelled robot that is made up of multiple but identical segments. These segments contain both propulsion and actuation mechanisms, which will power the various electronics and allow them to communicate seamlessly.
This mobility system is designed to help the robot explore the internal and enclosed terrain believed to make up Enceladus’ surface. The way that it is designed will allow it to not only traverse the top, icy crust, but also to dig deeper beneath the surface in search of the hidden ocean believed to reside below the crust.
The plan is to get EELS on the surface of Enceladus and then use it to enter through a plume vent, allowing NASA’s robotic snake to pass through the vent to the ocean below. The engineers behind the exploratory craft have already created a prototype, which features the multiple segments that will make its movements possible.
It’s also possible that EELS could be used on other planets, too, like Mars, to help explore below the surface and even across the surface. This could help make the search for life on Mars much easier, especially considering scientists believe the evidence of water on Mars could be hidden below its dunes.