NASA Developing Robotic Bees to Collect Samples, Map Mars Surface
NASA’s Mars rovers have gathered a lot of exciting data and photographs, but they’re moving at a snail’s pace. So how will it expedite that process? Robotic bees.
The space agency is developing bee-sized robots to map the surface of Mars and collect samples from the planet’s atmosphere. Scientists hope these insectoids will be more mobile and agile than traditional rovers.
The program, called “Marsbees,” is contracting researchers from the U.S. and Japan to build prototypes of winged robots, capable of swarming the red planet and collecting data, before returning to a rover to recharge.
One of the biggest obstacles engineers face is designing a robot that can fly in Mars’ unique climate. The red planet’s atmosphere can be pretty hostile with dust storms, low thermal inertia, and periodic ice ages. These bees will inevitably face some extreme weather conditions.
But there is one factor that may make the mission easier – Mars’ gravitational pull is about a third of Earth’s, which could prove to be more conducive to flight.
NASA’s website envisions the robots as roughly the size of a bee, but with larger, cicada-sized wings. Researchers imagine the bees will be capable of working independently or in teams to collect samples.
The program funding the project is called the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts Program, or NIAC, which fosters science fiction concepts with the potential for realistic applications.
The aerial bots would primarily search for methane emissions from below the planet’s surface – an indication of subterranean Martian life. NASA’s Curiosity rover previously discovered low levels of the gas, encouraging scientists to explore further.
But the technology for this apian concept doesn’t have a lot of promising precedent. Several years ago, DARPA built a hummingbird-inspired drone, with a multi-million-dollar budget. Researchers engineered it to fly steadily, but the winged machine would likely struggle in the Martian environment.
Engineers working on the Marsbees prototype will test their robots in a vacuum chamber, with conditions to simulate the climate and air density on Mars. The group is receiving just $125,000 over the course of nine months to fund their prototype, before it will be tested for feasibility by NASA. If it passes preliminary tests, it will then be eligible for a second round of funding.
The Alternative 3-Secret Space Program Connection
In 1977, a British television program titled Science Report: Alternative 3, part of an Anglia TV documentary series, aired and planted the seed of fear about an alien invasion in society at large. The program focuses on the disappearances of prominent scientists, engineers, and astronomers. The speculation is that the Earth is collapsing and will soon be unable to support human life, so these people have been taken by several governments acting together in an intergovernmental Secret Space Program (SSP) with the goal of developing colonies on other planets, using the moon as a way-station.
If you ever have a chance to view the program, it is so convincing that you will want to volunteer for the SSP, pack up your family, and head for Mars. However, there is only one known copy: it is in the possession of Alternative 3’s director. It is thought to be fading and grainy due to the passage of time. All other copies of the program were destroyed as were all contracts and any paperwork referencing the show as if the program never existed.
Although the TV program aired in June of 1977, the producers claimed it was originally intended to air on April Fool’s Day. Workers in the industry were striking, so the air date was postponed. When it did air, the reaction of viewers was reminiscent of the 1938 radio broadcast by Orson Wells of “The War of the Worlds,” which created civil unrest and havoc. The broadcast was meant to be a joke, but thousands of people in the U.S. thought the Earth was being invaded by Martians. They hit the streets in panic, not knowing what to do next or how to escape.
The program was so disturbing it was only shown once in England and once in Australia. The U.S. refused to air the program. It was never shown anywhere again. Even though the directors and producers of Alternative 3 were adamant that it was fiction, questions still abound. Is there some truth to the Alternative 3 theory?
Are there three alternatives for Earth inhabitants in case there is a catastrophic event that threatens the habitability of the planet? Thousands of people disappear every year, never to be heard from again. Could these people have been abducted to develop a Breakaway Civilization on the moon or another planet, like Mars?
Fact or Fiction?
Immediately after it aired, the producers of the program announced it had been fiction. The slot where Alternative 3 aired was one that routinely ran documentary episodes. The title of the series was Science Reports and Alternative 3 was the title of just one segment; it was the last program of the season of the Science Reports.
The program was created by reputable reporters and researchers who were well respected for their documentaries. Why would they risk their reputation by airing such a hoax? Was it really a hoax or was it a disguised message to the public about a secret space program?
A book with the same title, Alternative 3, was subsequently written by Leslie Watkins. It presented some of the theories of the alleged hoax as truth. The book and the television program promoted the idea that astronauts had landed on Mars in 1962 in a joint U.S./U.S.S.R. effort and definitively identified intelligent extraterrestrial life. It also promoted the idea that climate change was just one thing that could soon make the Earth uninhabitable.