Forget Life on Mars; Try Under Mars. Drilling for Aliens

To find life on Mars, use this space drill.

For decades, we’ve been searching for signs of life on other planets. So far, we've come up snake eyes.

Maybe we’ve been using the wrong preposition. Maybe life isn’t so much on other planets as beneath them.

Bombarded by radiation and subject to harsh temperatures, the surfaces of most planets and moons are lousy places for life to take hold. If we were to go beneath the surface, though, we might find organisms that have thrived in subterranean environments for millions of years.

Now, a team at Honeybee Robotics is working with NASA to develop a robotic space drill that can bore through miles of rock and ice on such places as Mars and Jupiter's moon Europa to search for life underground. The drill has to be able to function autonomously on very low power, make its way through an alien surface, and work in concert with other robotic equipment to collect and analyze what's brought to the surface.

The engineers at Honeybee aren't expecting the thing to go up on the next rocket, but perhaps in 20 years it will be part of our exploratory tool kit. When that happens, what started as a drill may become the first contact we have with extraterrestrial life.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.