NASA is hoping to take the next step in extraterrestrial colonization by building prospecting drones which can be used to search for resources and shelter outside of Earth.
These drones are named Extreme Access Flyers and are being designed at the Swamp Works laboratory at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Due to the thin atmosphere on Mars, the drones are being built using gas fueled jets instead of propellers which we use on Earth. The current landlocked rovers we have on Mars are unable to scale some of the difficult terrain and hard to access or dark areas, but the Extreme Access Flyers will be able explore the depths of craters and volcanic remains.
The drones will be able to collect small soil samples back to their lander, where they can be refueled and recharged while the samples are analysed. Aside from that, the drones will be used to search for caves or lava tubes, which are the naturally formed tunnels where lava had flowed. The hope is to be able to find some large enough shelter that could possibly host habitable space base. They would need to be sheltered from radiation and weather extremes.
NASA has their eyes set on Mars for the time being, but the drones can be used for collecting soil samples at places which are difficult to access on Earth as well, like volcanoes or at nuclear plant disasters.
Though the day we send humans to Mars is still far away, we can use robots to get some of the work started. By beginning to search Mars in more detail, the drones will be able to give us a better picture of what to expect on our neighboring planet. On Earth the most mineral and fuel rich places are in the areas of known meteor impact, and this is likely true for Mars as well. If we find evidence that supports the idea of mining on Mars, we may see a new interest for space exploration.