NASA probe dives into aquarium before braving outer space
NASA is hoping this probe will one day answer questions about yet-undiscovered life forms
August 26, 1998
Web posted at: 10:48 p.m. EDT (0248 GMT)
MONTEREY, California (CNN) -- Part of NASA's ongoing search for other forms of life in the solar system is taking place on the Pacific coast. A new experiment using tanks at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is testing a device NASA hopes to send someday to other planets.
The device's purpose is to seek out life that's out of this world.
"We're still learning in terms of how life began and how life existed and what are the ways to determine how that happened," said NASA scientist Lloyd French. "So this is a very small step to a bigger world of exploration."
Before it's sent to other worlds, the probe -- developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena -- must be tested underwater. So French suits up, puts on his fins and takes a dive.
Dr. Lonnie Lane guides him from above, checking the probe's camera and other sensitive instruments. Down below, the spectacle attracts curious crowds visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The test is crucial to make sure the probe holds up before the next tests take place.
Once scientists finish in the aquarium, they'll test how the probe holds up under extreme temperatures -- volcanic vents 4,000 feet below the sea off the Hawaiian coast and frozen lake beds in Antarctica.
If both those tests prove successful, they'll leave the oceans of the earth behind and travel the oceans of outer space. Destination: an icy moon that may have oceans miles beneath its surface.
NASA hopes to send a spacecraft carrying the probe to the planet Jupiter's moon Europa by the year 2003. It will record the depths of ice on that moon, and then burrow down, possibly several miles, to underground oceans where scientists can test for underwater life.
"Some of the packaging and some of the instrumentation involved in this probe will hopefully be used for going to Europa and learning how to deal with that particular environment," French explained.
If successful, the probe could answer questions about whether life exists beyond Earth.