Zoe robot heading back to Atacama Desert to search for subsurface life

The autonomous, solar-powered Zoe is returning to the world`s driest desert,Atacama,this month on a NASA astrobiology mission to search for subsurface life.

Updated: Jun 12, 2013, 19:14 PM IST

Washington: The autonomous, solar-powered Zoe, which became the first robot to map microbial life during a 2005 field expedition in Chile`s Atacama Desert, is returning to the world`s driest desert this month on a NASA astrobiology mission to search for subsurface life.

Like before, Zoe will be testing technologies and techniques that will be necessary for exploring life on Mars. It has been equipped with a one-meter drill for the mission, led by Carnegie Mellon University and the SETI Institute.

"Direct evidence of life, if it exists, is more likely underground, beyond the current reach of rovers," said David Wettergreen, research professor in Carnegie Mellon`s Robotics Institute and the principal investigator for the Life in the Atacama project.

So Zoe has been fitted with a drill made by Honeybee Robotics than can bore deep into the ground.

The robot`s auger will dredge up soil samples that can be analyzed with several on-board instruments. One of these is the Mars Microbeam Raman Spectrometer, an early candidate for the 2020 Mars mission, which can analyze mineral and elemental composition of soil.
In addition to Honeybee, the project includes collaborators at Universidad Catolica del Norte in Chile, the University of Tennessee, Washington University and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The project is supported by a 3-million-dollar grant from NASA.