Ever since scientists have had an orbiter's view of Mars, they've observed intriguing black spots on the surface so dark no one knows what's inside them.
They're thought to be the mouths of deep caves where the sun doesn't shine(Opens in a new tab) , formed by ancient volcano vents. Within them could be existing Martian life, liquid water, or traces of long-dead bacteria or fungi that flourished eons ago.
With NASA's new moon-to-Mars Artemis space campaign, researchers are intent on developing technology to make spelunking the red planet possible. If astronauts one day fly to Mars, these underground lairs could be ideal places to create a makeshift home, sheltered from space radiation and dust storms.
But the challenges are monumental: Even if engineers could make a robot that wouldn't get stuck on rocks, they would still have to figure out how to beam back pictures and data from the cave-diving rovers, which aren't likely to return. The answer, says Wolfgang Fink, a University of Arizona engineer, is to send a robot into a cave with no expectation that it will come back.
But any Earthling who has tried to talk on a phone while driving through a tunnel or walking into an elevator knows exactly the problem Fink and his team have to solve: how to not drop that crucial call.