a reply to: Ophiuchus 13
As far as I understand it, NASA has discovered caves on the Moon, which they have speculated could house astronauts in the event of a Moonbase or
staging post being developed there, so they are looking into that with some interest at the moment. I think the main reason we have sent no rovers
there for some time, is basically because we have orbiters which have recorded data using gravity mapping techniques, which show cave structures in
pretty fine detail, fine enough for the moment at any rate.
When some significant planning has already been undertaken to prepare for a possible Moonbase construction effort, I would imagine that it will be
considered worth while to send robots very similar to those you highlighted, to look into whatever caves are present in more detail, establish the
parameters of the environment within.
As for Mars, there are almost certainly caves on Mars generally, but during a flyby of the planet the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught a shot of a
"cave skylight", which is basically a lava tube which has penetrated upward, to the surface. Filled in with dust from the surface (blown there by the
surprisingly weak, but none the less massive sandstorms which blast across the planet from time to time), the area they took a picture of is just one
of COUNTLESS lava tube formations thought to be present just under the surface of the Red Planet. However, getting into intact lava tubes, which do
NOT have such a thick coating of dust, will require a robot that can drill through and load itself into, these tubes. This, on its own, would be quite
tricky. But you also have to contend with the fact that if these robotic drones are going to go sub surface, they may very well drop contact with
Earth. The radiation bathed surface of Mars, would probably interfere with communications gear on board, making steering and control of the drone more
generally, a great deal more difficult than it would be otherwise. Given how hard it is to control a drone on the surface, I can only imagine that
this would be the devils own job for an underground investigation.
The difficulties presented thereby are all the more frustrating, because although scientists are pretty sure that the Martian surface will prove to
be as lifeless as they have thought for a long time, the subsurface may very well prove to be entirely different in aspect, because it is protected
from the worst of the radiation being thrown at the planets surface, and has the other advantage of being closer to any liquid water sequestered
underground, than the surface is. These two things in tandem may be enough for some kind of life to flourish.
As to Venus, things are trickier there. Every object we have sent there has been corroded to ruin by acidic rain, melted by enormous temperatures,
and stomped flat against the planets surface by the staggering surface pressure of the most innocuous looking, yet inhospitable location in our Solar
System. Electronics hold up particularly badly in the environment present on Venus, however, there ARE projects being thought up, which MIGHT have an
answer to that series of environmental barriers. For example, there is one idea being batted around at the moment, involving a fully mechanical
computer, driven by some kind of wind turbine, which would be built into and onto a lander for Venus. This lander would feature two main components,
connected by a cable. One would be the lander itself, which would be fitted with the mechanical computer, a communications array involving a radar
capturing unit on a piston, and the turbine for power production. The other would be the mobile element of the lander, which would be attached to it
via a cable of some sort. Its job would be to somehow make it from the lander, to the edge of some kind of cave, and then descend into the planet,
using the cable to anchor itself. The radar on a piston arrangement, would be used to communicate with the orbiter in a kind of morse code like
language, which would then send data back to Earth...
That is a VERY convoluted methodology, and I think that it is worth noting that it would be a whole RAFT of firsts. First mechanical computer to be
employed in a roving lander, first mechanical computer sent to Venus, first rover to survive more than a few minutes on the surface...
This would not be a situation which in any way resembles the situation we had with the Mars rovers of late, which have been uniformly impressive in
their longevity and performance. The rovers sent to Venus would have a life span far shorter, and functionality many times more limited, than those
sent to Mars, precisely because the hostility of the environment on Venus, requires a simplicity and solidarity of mechanism which might well render
the entire effort somewhat pointless. For all that it would be an impressive feat, nothing that could survive the Venusian environment for very long,
will be sufficiently sophisticated to record more than a few, basic data points, and the time it will take to convey findings to the orbiter will be
much longer than the communications periods involved in the Mars missions.
All in all, it might simply not be worth it yet, for the amount of data one could ever hope to recover.