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Underwater robot test in Mexico
Wed May 16, 2007 11:25AM
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An underwater robot is being tested in a Mexican sinkhole lake as part of a NASA funded project to aid exploration of life on other planets.

The bright orange, bubble-shaped vehicle was lowered into the Zacaton lake in the Gulf coast state of Tamaulipas, which at about 1,000 feet deep is believed to be the world's deepest sinkhole, AP reports.

It is designed to sense, adapt to and investigate its surrounding, without being connected to its operators, and is equipped with sonar sensors.

According to NASA's website, the project aims to create a comprehensive 3-D map of Zacaton and collect water samples to learn about its chemistry and biology, many of the same tasks it might perform on one of Jupiter's moons.

Scientists believe a huge ocean lies beneath Europa's thick, frozen crust, and some say it may be capable of supporting life.

"With luck we could launch in 2015, and it takes two years to get there (Europa), another year of preparations to reach and map the deep sea," Stone said. "By 2019, we might have information on life beyond Earth."

Other autonomous underwater vehicles have been used to map the ocean floor, but DEPTHX is the first with the sensitivity and maneuvering ability to make detailed maps of irregular confined spaces like Zacaton, NASA said.

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