Tumbleweed Rover Ball Could Be Key to Exploring More of Mars

Martian rovers with wheels are so 2009, man. And they get stuck in the sand way too easily. What we need is an army of tumbleweed beach ball robots surveying hundreds of miles of Martian surface. NASA's on the case.

The concept is mind-numbingly simple: It's a big, bouncing ball that's light enough to be pushed around Mars by nothing but the planet's wind. Wind that's known to be strong enough to create dust devils and clean Spirit's solar panels from time-to-time, so this little sucker could really get moving if conditions are just right.

That's precisely the idea—get moving; get moving fast; and get moving into wide swaths of the Martian landscape so humanity can start doing the kinds of surveys that will be necessary should we ever hope to actually set foot on Mars with a limb that's decidedly human, and not robot.

Test designs have already been deployed to Martian-like environments in Antarctica and Greenland, where they successfully traversed hundreds of miles of terrain without incident. These were inflatable designs that had the ability to deflate and remain stationary (to perform experiments), before re-inflating and continuing on.

So, exciting news for us here on Earth, and super exciting news for whatever might live on Mars—you guys could soon be on the receiving end of your very own ball pit. It'd be like Chuck E. Cheese's, but with less color and more NASA branding. And probing. Oh, the probing! [MSNBC]