EELS: Revolutionizing Space Exploration
NASA is in the process of developing an innovative robot named EELS (Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor), a snake-like explorer designed for challenging missions beyond Earth. Weighing 100kg and stretching 4.4 meters, EELS is still in development but boasts impressive features:
1. 3D Awareness: EELS’s “head” captures 3D views, while its body carries instruments for subsurface measurement to create a detailed 3D map of its surroundings.
2. Active Skin Movement: Utilizing counter-rotating screws, EELS maneuvers on icy surfaces and in materials like snow and sand.
3. Adaptable Shapes: EELS can change shape to fit various environments. It is engineered to explore hard-to-reach places, such as cracks, crevices, and caves, where traditional rovers may struggle.
4. Smart Decisions: Equipped with software for navigating uncertain terrains without human intervention.
Initially inspired by the concept of exploring Enceladus, a moon of Saturn concealing an ocean beneath its icy crust, EELS’s design was influenced by measurements from Enceladus. This allows the robot to access the ocean without the need for digging or drilling. EELS aims to investigate this ocean in the search for signs of extraterrestrial life, designed to explore internal terrain structures, assess habitability, and search for evidence of life.
If successful, EELS could revolutionize ocean world exploration, enabling deeper exploration into areas that were previously inaccessible. The robot’s potential to adapt to various terrains extends its usability beyond extraterrestrial bodies to include Earth and its diverse environments. In tests across different settings, from ski resorts to ice rinks, EELS has shown promise. NASA envisions EELS exploring destinations like the Moon, Earth, and icy moons, positioning it as a key player in future space exploration.
The project is described as ambitious, involving collaboration among researchers and scientists motivated by the potential scientific discoveries EELS could unlock.