Scientists have a lot of ideas when it comes to exploring Mars, but one research team is eyeing a very unique approach. Basically: Shoot a few missiles at the Red Planet.
Dubbed the ExoLance project, the initiative aims to fire arrowlike “penetrators” into the surface of Mars. The goal? Have them penetrate at least 3.3 feet, which is the depth at which researchers believe microbial life could be capable of surviving on the barren planet.
The nonprofit Explore Mars Inc. has basically designed a smaller craft that can be carried to Mars, likely as a secondary payload on another mission, which can then fly out and launch the “penetrator” missiles into the planet’s surface. It’s a cool idea, and they’re currently raising money to test the concept in New Mexico. Sadly, the crowdfunding effort has largely failed, and they’ve essentially hit the wall of what they can afford for the moment.
But the science (apparently) seems sound. Joe Cassady, executive director for space at California-based firm Aerojet Rocketdyne, noted their simulations have all returned very positive results. Here’s an excerpt via Space:
“We are encouraged by these preliminary results that the fundamental concept of the ExoLance design can be made to work. There is still more work to be done, but we don't see anything that looks like a showstopper to get the 1 meter-plus depths we were hoping for … Once the concept is sufficiently tested and we have proven the viability of the mission concept, we will approach NASA, other space agencies, and potential commercial providers to carry ExoLance on one or more future Mars missions.”
NASA astrobiologist Chris McKay notes that current missions to explore the planet’s surface are likely to miss life buried any deeper, adding that the Martian underground “remains an unexplored region.” McKay also contends that the underground is our “best place to search” for preserved organic remains of past life.
What do you think? Is shooting mini-exploratory missiles into Mars a good idea? What do you think we'll find below the surface?