NASA Climbing Robot Scales Cliffs and Looks for Life
[vehicles drive by on gravel]
[LEMUR-3 RAISING A ROBOT]
[NARRATOR] Titus Canyon...an area lying in the north of Death Valley National Park. Hundreds of millions of years ago this dark landscape lay beneath warm tropical seas. Today it is the site for a field test conducted by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
[Male] Three, two, one.
[NARRATOR] LEMUR-3 is a climbing rover. A mechanized explorer designed to work in extreme terrain.
[NARRATOR] LEMUR's challenge is to find evidence of the life that once inhabited this area's long lost warm waters and muddy terrain. A waypoint is set high on the canyon. LEMUR will climb to this point, analyzing the rock face along the way. LEMUR uses LiDAR to choose a path, bouncing laser pulses off the rock to determine its shape. It holds itself in place with micro-spine grippers made up of hundreds of tiny hooks that can fasten onto any rough surface. The more LEMUR climbs, the better choices it makes.
[Male] Going to release grippers.
A variety of instruments on board are used to analyze the rock. An infrared spectrometer on its belly detects the presence of organic compounds. X-rays help identify chemical elements. It can detect the tiniest fluorescence of fossilized organisms in the ultraviolet. For this mission, a safety cable anchors LEMUR to the rock. It helps emulate the lower gravity LEMUR will be operating in away from Earth. Away from Earth, it would roam free and unencumbered.
[Male] Body shifting in three, two, one...
[NARRATOR] LEMUR reaches its destination. The machine is retrieved; the data, analyzed. The results are fascinating. Stromatolites - fossilized balls of algae, dating back to the Paleozoic Era - are among LEMUR's discoveries. Traces of organisms that once swam in warm seas. Organisms that have been dead for 500 million years. LEMUR represents a new generation of mechanized explorer that could one day roam landscapes far beyond Earth. The data it accumulates with each climb is passed to its descendants. If LEMUR can find life in rock that is half a billion years old, think how useful that skill might be at its ultimate destination. Not a rocky canyon wall here on Earth, but out there. Among the stars.
[EXPLORE SPACE TECH / NASA]