Next Rover Survives Basic Training

Antarctica Ross Ice Shelf
AP
A balloon-shaped NASA rover being tested for exploration of the martian polar caps and other planets has survived a 40-mile, wind-driven trek across Antarctica.

The robot explorer was developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and is being tested for its durability in extremely cold environments, scientists said. It began its journey Jan. 24 and spent eight days rolling across the continent's polar plateau, NASA announced Wednesday.

The 88-pound rover used a global satellite network to send information on its position and the surrounding environment back to the JPL scientists. It moved at an average speed of about 4 miles per hour, but reached up to 10 miles per hour.

Temperatures hovered around -22 Fahrenheit, but the rover kept its instruments at a toasty 86 degrees.

The rover, a sphere six feet in diameter, can act as a parachute during descent, an air bag upon landing, and ultimately as an unmanned exploratory vehicle.

Its rolling mode of transportation could allow the "tumbleweed" rover to cover more ground, while using fewer onboard resources than the two NASA rovers currently combing the surface of Mars. Researchers hope that would free up space for more scientific instruments.

One of the rovers now on Mars, Opportunity, found evidence that rocks on the Red Planet were once immersed in water, meaning Mars may once have been a place where life could flourish. The other, Spirit, has encountered primarily volcanic rocks and soil.

Both probes suffered technical problems when they landed on Mars earlier this year, but are now operating.