In order to land on the Martian surface, NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity went through seven minutes of terror: it plummeted from the sky at 13,000 miles per hour, with only a supersonic parachute and a set of rocket motors to keep it from becoming a crater. However, a team at NASA has a nifty trick up its sleeves for the next time around: a rover made of hollow rods and elastic cable that can squish and bounce. Just like the Skwish, a popular child’s toy developed in the early ’80s, NASA’s Super Ball Bot uses the principles of tensegrity to do its job. The contraption can absorb the impact of a hard landing, pop right back up, then roll across a surface, end over end, like an extremely awkward ball.
While NASA scientists are still proving that the concept works and figuring out the best way to control it as it rolls, they currently believe they could hang a payload inside the contraption and drop it onto a planet with little damage at all. They’ve already successfully dropped an egg from ten meters, and have calculated that such a rover could land on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, with no protection other than the thick atmosphere itself. Perhaps our next extraterrestrial landing will be a little less terrifying as a result.
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