Bees have long been appreciated by people here on Earth for their ability to help with everything from growing crops to medicinal remedies. Now it seems that bees can be useful for purposes that are out of this world. NASA announced a plan to use bees as part of its research on Mars. To be fair, the bees NASA plans to use are robotic, not the buzzing little critters we’re all used to.
The idea is to use the bees to replace the rovers that are currently being deployed. While the rovers certainly have their place in the research arsenal, they tend to be bulky and slow, not to mention extremely expensive. NASA’s robotic bees will be able to fly over the surface of the planet in swarms. They’ll be able to cover a much larger area, and they’ll be able to do it for far cheaper than a rover.
NASA has named the project Marsbees, and one of the reasons they think the idea will be successful is that Mars has a lower gravitational pull than Earth, meaning the bees won’t have to strain as much to stay in flight. The robotic bees will aid in mapping the surface of the Mars terrain, and they’ll also be able to collect samples from the thin atmosphere. If those robots happen to pick up on methane gas, it could be an indication of life on the red planet. While the Curiosity rover has detected signs of methane in the past, the levels weren’t substantial enough to determine whether or not it was produced by a biological life form.
The Marsbees will utilize a life-like flapping wing method of propulsion, as opposed to gyration like you’d find in modern drones. The flapping-wing design allows the robotic bees to be much more energy efficient and last longer on low power. That’s a vital quality when it comes to the equipment used to gather data on Mars. Even so, the bees will have to return to a “home base” on a regular basis in order to recharge.
The Marsbees project is in its infant stages, but teams at both the University of Alabama and in Japan are working diligently to get the project “off the ground.”