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Explosive data mining robots could be sent to hazardous asteroids

Darren Murph

Sending robotic creatures into space has become somewhat of a worldwide pastime, but sending explosive robots to take care of multiple acts of business is what Dennis Ebbets of Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado has on his mind. In a recent presentation given to the American Astronomical Society, Mr. Ebbets described a fleet of robotic probes small and cheap enough to "investigate a near-Earth asteroid's composition and structure." The devices would be battery-powered and would only be useful for a matter of days, but during the time it was on the asteroid, it would collect data of the surface, explode, and allow other still-in-tact siblings to "listen for vibrations that could reveal the object's inner structure." Considering that NASA has compiled a list of over 800 asteroids that could be potentially dangerous to our planet due to their orbit, these exploding bots would serve a dual purpose as they erupted on the surface to break up the asteroid or veer it off course, all while collecting precious data about the "inner structures" of these mysterious rocks. Although funding still isn't guaranteed for the volatile critters to take off just yet, as many as six of the 12-kilograms probes could loaded onto a single spacecraft and launched to its destination "relatively cheaply," and if things go as planned, we could see the first of these gizmos gettin' dirty by 2011.

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