The Inertia Contributing Editor

NASA is considering sending swimming robots to space. Photo: Guillermo Ferla/Unsplash

The Inertia

Founded in 1958, NASA has made incredible discoveries and advancements in regards to space exploration and aeronautics research. Their latest mission in the name of advancement is to send swimming robots to habitable oceans in the solar system. No, seriously.

NASA recently announced it has $600,000 in funding for the study. The plan is to send the swimming robots (also known as independent micro-swimmers) to explore the solar system’s many “world’s oceans.” Scientists are curious to learn more about these foreign bodies of water because they apparently contain infinite amounts of water compared to Earth’s oceans.

The mission is the vision of Ethan Schaler, a robotics mechanical engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in southern California. In 2021, Schaler was awarded $125,000 in Phase I NIAC funding to study design options and make and test 3-D prototypes.

Schaler’s proposed swimmers would be much smaller than past concepts, allowing them to be loaded compactly into an ice probe. The smaller size would increase the likelihood of them detecting life and determining the possibility of inhabiting distant ocean-bearing celestial bodies.


“My idea is, where can we take miniaturized robotics and apply them in interesting new ways for exploring our solar system,” Schaler said in a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory report. “With a swarm of small swimming robots, we are able to explore a much larger volume of ocean water and improve our measurements by having multiple robots collecting data in the same area.”

There are still a lot of challenges to overcome and the project is a long ways from being launched. But it has the possibility of major scientific advancements. If the micro-swimmers discover life and habitable oceans in the solar system, it would obviously be an unprecedented step in space discovery



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