By using the barren Atacama Desert in Chile as a stand-in for Mars, researchers have shown that it’s possible to use an autonomous rover-mounted drill to detect life beneath a desolate surface. Encouragingly, the test resulted in the discovery of a resilient microorganism—exactly the kind of creature that could lurk deep beneath the Martian surface.
New research published today in Frontiers in Microbiology describes a trial NASA rover mission in Chile’s Atacama Desert that could mirror a future mission to Mars. The experimental rover and drill, designed by Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute and funded by NASA, successfully recovered microorganisms beneath the surface—specifically, a hardy, salt-resistant bacteria. The test provided justification for a life-hunting mission to Mars, but the experiment was not without its challenges and limitations. As the new research showed, finding life on Mars—if it even exists—will require some serious technological innovations, a lot of cash, and a bit of luck.
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