It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that a group trying to raise money to shoot missiles at Mars is from the U.S. No matter what the reason, is blasting holes in another planet a good idea? And what IS their reason anyway?
Explore Mars, a non-profit group in Beverly, Massachusetts, is appealing for funds for a project it calls Exolance, whose purpose would be to probe deeper into the surface of Mars than any previous missions by firing missiles into the planet’s crust. The missiles would contain instruments design to withstand the impact so they can radio subterranean data back to Earth – data that Exolance hopes will include evidence of life on Mars.
Curiosity’s drill can only dig about an inch. NASA’s upcoming InSight lander mission will dig down five meters but isn’t looking for life, while the European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover will probe two meters for life but only in one spot.
Exolance uses archery metaphors to explain its plan. The Arrows are small, lightweight penetrating probes originally designed for the military (bunker-busting weapons technology) that will pierce the surface to a depth of five or more meters. The life-detection equipment will send data to a surface transmitter which relays it to an orbiter that sends it to Earth. Multiple Arrows will be shot by a Quiver dispenser as it descends to the surface, so that they are spread across a wide surface area.
Explore Mars will test Exolance in the Mojave Desert in 2014 to prove the instruments can withstand the impact. Then it needs to convince NASA, SpaceX or another private company to take the probes to Mars as part of another mission.
NASA sent two penetrating probes to Mars in 1999 but the shock of impact knocked out the instruments. It has fired probes into sand and ice for a possible mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa.
Missiles, bunker-busting, arrows, penetration … not exactly terminology that says peaceful space exploration. What could possibly go wrong?