Exploration of Planetary Skylights and Caves
Skylights are recently-discovered “holes” on the surface of the Moon and Mars that may lead to planetary caves. These openings represent an unparalleled opportunity to access subterranean spaces. Robots are well-suited to utilize skylights for accessing, exploring, surveying, and operating in cave destinations as low-risk, high-return precursors to human missions.
Unprecedented insight into the geological origin and evolution of the planets can be gleaned from the interiors of planetary caves, such as lava tubes, on the Moon and Mars. Their subterranean nature offers shelter from radiation and their expansiveness is also well suited for early human habitation. They may be the prime locations to search for the evidence of prior life on Mars and other worlds.
This program develops mechanism, perception, autonomy, modeling and operations to enable robotic exploration of planetary skylights and caves. These focus areas will build roadmap with the objective of a robotic lunar skylight mission. The program will popularize robots for skylights and caves by engendering collaboration between planetary scientists and roboticists, leading public technology demonstrations at terrestrial analog sites, and by engaging in broad dissemination of scholarly data.