There may soon be bees on Mars. Well, not actual bees, as the Martian temperatures and lack of breathable oxygen in its atmosphere would almost certainly kill them immediately. But robotic bees are another story, and NASA is working on sending a "swarm" of them to the Red Planet, The Telegraph is reporting.
Developed by Japanese and American scientists, and lovingly named "Marsbees," the robots will be similar in size to the typical Earthbound bee, only with super-sized wings. That's because the machines will need more lift to get airborne in the Martian atmosphere, which is about one percent as thick as the Earth's.
Once aloft, the swarm, equipped with communications devices in constant contact with teams back on Earth, will be able to fly across the surface of the planet, taking measurements on such things as methane emissions - a possible sign of life. Similarly, they could map the surface, take photographs, and take samples.
In other words, all the work that would otherwise require expensive manned missions or pickup-truck sized probes, such as the Curiosity Rover, can be done by the Marsbees at a fraction of the cost.
#NASA funds robotic bee explorers for #Mars. Creating flapping winged robotic flight in the Martian atmosphere leads to Marsbees project. #21stcentury #tech https://t.co/m0swcjEIeh pic.twitter.com/WyYWPhTjzhAnother advantage over rovers: the bees could move quickly and relatively effortlessly compared to rovers, which move incredibly slowly. The Curiosity Rover, for example, which has been on Mars since 2012, has managed to move all of 11.2 miles in more than seven years.
— Len Rosen (@lenrosen4) April 1, 2018
However, something akin to a rover would still be necessary for the bees, as they would need a "base" to which they could go to rest and recharge.
As of right now, the Martian Bee Program is simply in the discussion stage. It was one of over two dozen proposals NASA received from various groups, submitting ideas for next-generation Martian exploration, and exploration of other bodies throughout space, through the space agency's Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. Each group that submitted an approved proposal received $125,000 in funding to come up with workable ideas and apply to receive further funding.
Other ideas received through the program include a steam-powered jumping robot named "Sparrow" that could explore the icy lakes on Saturn's moon Titan, where scientists believe the best chance of life in the solar system, outside of Earth, may be hiding.
As of this writing, there is no clear indication when, or even if, robotic bees will be deployed to Mars.