While President Obama signs off on the future of space exploration
, NASA is on the move, developing new ways to get a look at the fourth planet from the sun. We've seen our share of rovers
(and one sweet hopper
) in this space, and now the gang at the Langley Research Center is hard at work on a rocket-powered, robotic Mars-bound airplane. ARES, or Aerial Regional-Scale Environmental Surveyor, is 16.4 feet long, made from a lightweight polymer-carbon composite material, and has a wingspan of 21 feet. "A powered airplane flying a mile above the surface can obtain measurements over inaccessible parts of Mars and collect a whole bunch of data that no rover can collect," according to atmospheric scientist Joel Levine. Perhaps most exciting, the machine would be able to fly over the southern highlands, an area whose mountains, craters, and volcanoes have hindered exploration in the past. Sadly, all good things must come to an end -- and ARES is no exception. Although its flight would last for a mere two hours, it could cover over nine hundred miles of unexplored territory, collecting data on everything from chemicals and signs of water to the magnetic field in this region.