NASA is developing “snake-like EELS” to slither across one of Saturn’s moons in search of alien life.
The EELS (Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor) is being developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a mission to Enceladus, one of its 83 moons.
The snake-like robot will autonomously map, traverse and explore previously inaccessible destinations.
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NASA say Enceladus hides a global ocean of liquid salty water beneath its crust and the technology will look for any signs of life by slithering through narrow vents in the surface.
It is made of segments with "first-of-a-kind rotating propulsion units" that allow it to grip surfaces and move underwater.
The space body added EELS will be able to pick a safe course through a wide variety of terrain on Earth, the Moon and far beyond, including undulating sand and ice, cliff walls, craters too steep for rovers, underground lava tubes and labyrinthine spaces within glaciers.
The roughly 16-foot and 220-pound robot is undergoing extensive testing in various environments to make sure it's ready for the job.
The "head" of the snake will feature technology that allows EELS to capture the world in 3D and send real-time video to operators.
Meanwhile, its body will be able to carry and deploy a science payload that could allow scientists to capture subsurface pressure, electrical conductivity and temperature, as reported by CBS News.
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The launch date has not yet been announced, but experts are expected to finalise the proposed dates by late next year.
EELS Deputy Project Manager Rachel Etheredge said last year: "We are early in the project, but it is achievable in our lifetime… It's an ambitious collaboration, and we're motivated by the shared excitement we have for this concept, and the potential science we could gather with EELS."
Once it is deployed it will take approximately 12 years for the spacecraft to carry the EELS to Saturn's moon, but only days for the snake to reach the oceans and start its mission, according to researchers.
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NASA says: “The EELS system is a mobile instrument platform conceived to explore internal terrain structures, assess habitability and ultimately search for evidence of life.
"It is designed to be adaptable to traverse ocean-world-inspired terrain, fluidized media, enclosed labyrinthian environments and liquids."
And if all goes well, the robot snake could take ocean world exploration to the next level, NASA says, allowing "deeper exploration into areas that were once unattainable".
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