I’ve followed the progress of the Mars Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, with some interest over the last few years.
They are traversing barren, dry, inhospitable land with few signs of life. That’s a huge challenge for the engineers and technicians, especially when the vehicle gets stuck in soft ground.
Yet I’ve often come across criticism that we know more about the Moon, the planets and space than we do about our own ocean floors.
The Benthic Rover operates in almost the opposite conditions from the Mars Rovers. It is immersed in sea water, subject to extreme pressures, and surrounded by life:
About the size and weight of a small compact car, the Benthic Rover moves very slowly across the seafloor, taking photographs of the animals and sediment in its path. Every three to five meters (10 to 16 feet) the Rover stops and makes a series of measurements on the community of organisms living in the seafloor sediment. …
As the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans become warmer, even life in the deep sea will be affected. The Benthic Rover, and its possible successors, will help researchers understand how deep-sea communities are changing over time.
Just as the rovers Spirit and Opportunity gave us dramatic new perspectives on the planet Mars, so the Benthic Rover is giving researchers new perspectives of a dark world that is in some ways more mysterious than the surface of the distant red planet.
I love that as human beings we can research both environments. Both are remote and mysterious, hostile and challenging. Both involve exploring, discovering what we don’t know. Both advance our knowledge of the universe, near or far.