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Video: NASA Heads Under the Ice

NASA

NASA was on thin ice recently -- literally. 

NASA's Jet Propulsion Labortory is currently developing a "Buoyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration."

The rover could one day explore planetary bodies, such as Jupiter's icy moon Europa, whose massive ocean is covered in ice. While Earth doesn't have the exact conditions of Europa, the methane-rich frozen lakes of the arctic come close enough for testing purposes.

So JPL sent a team out to test the prototype  in arctic lakes near the remote town of Barrow, Alaska.

"Subzero temperatures, arctic ice, biting winds, polar bears and robots. God, I love this job," said team member Dan Berisford, a technologist in thermal and fluids engineering. 

The earliest rounds of testing were done tethered, as the team of scientists and engineers had no clue whether the prototype would sink or float. 

"If we do eventually deploy in a world like Europa, we're not gonna have a tether, we're gonna need to be able to do remote operations untethered," said Kevin Hand, a JPL planetary scientist and astrobiologist.

The team had to conduct its testing when the ice was thin, in order to discover where the methane seeps were.

"Yeah, it's dangerous business walking around on this thin ice," Berisford said. "I mean this is why we thought of the rover to begin with. We thought, 'Oh, we'll just invert the surface. Instead of a rover that drives on the ground, we'll have a rover that drives on the ceiling.'"  

To see the rover in action, check out the video below from NASA: 

By Caitlin Fairchild September 25, 2015

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