Since our mainstream media chooses not to share information on the subject, most members of the American masses are probably not aware that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) still has two operational rovers cruising around on Mars.

Launched in November of 2011, Curiosity Rover is still at work after landing on the Red Planet in August 2012, and the venerable Opportunity is incredibly still going strong after being launched in July 2003 and touching down on in January 2004. Another unit – Spirit – was put into service at about the same time as Opportunity, but met its demise after about six years, as NASA’s last communication with it occurred in March of 2010. Depending on who you believe, Spirit either got permanently stuck in Martian sand (as NASA stated) or was disabled by a galactic taser wielded by some alien life form (as some less-than-mainstream media sources have suggested).

But regardless of the status of Earth-based machinery on Mars, NASA has announced a new rover program that began last Friday – this time with an interesting twist. Instead of sending up a rocket with a payload destined for another world, the organization has sent a robotic vehicle to Greenland to rove around and study the famous ice shelf on the home planet’s largest island (an independent country situated between the Atlantic and Arctic oceans that’s part of the Kingdom of Denmark).

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

Called GROVER (which stands for both Greenland Rover and Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research), the 6-foot tall, 800-pound contraption is on a month-long mission that will involve many frozen subjects, including examining a new layer of ice that has formed since last year’s unusually warm summer that resulted in melting across 97-percent of the ice sheet’s total area of 1.7 million square miles, and is believed to be responsible for an iceberg twice the size of Manhattan breaking off and floating away.

NASA’s goal in the mission is to compare ice accumulation data with summer melt numbers, and subsequently gauge net ice shelf loss. GROVER is being sent in largely because of a realization that while scientists on snowmobiles might have lots of fun surveying ice floes, it arguably isn’t the most productive use of their time. And there’s a financial angle, too, because using humans would also cost more than the automated technique, which is an important consideration since NASA’s budget was not that long ago cut to the point where its higher-ups can barely affording a soda with lunch.

Built specifically to detect characteristics of the ice sheet by using on-board ground-penetrating radar, GROVER can negotiate wintry landscapes such as Greenland’s thanks to a pair of tank-like snowmobile treads, and its solar power plant will allow it to work 24-7 because the sun doesn’t set in Arctic latitudes this time of year.

So if you’re ice fishing in Greenland in broad daylight at 3:30 a.m., you might see a NASA rover roll by. Go figure.

When I read about the project, I immediately began to imagine another way NASA could utilize its rover prowess.

For many years, rumors have circulated that there is intelligent life and common sense in Washington, D.C. But while there is written and even primitive photographic evidence that both at some point existed in our nation’s capital, it’s widely accepted in some circles that they long ago became extinct for reasons that may never be understood, and there is no scientific proof that either have since made a comeback.

I think NASA could effectively design a rover capable of entering that vast governmental wasteland and perhaps finding tangible evidence of intelligence and/or common sense, and maybe even provide valuable data that could help future generations develop ways of preserving them and helping them thrive. Or conversely, the mission could verify that neither exists.

The new rover could be called “GROSS,” for Ground-based Remotely Operated Search for Sensibility. It would probably be best equipped with high ground clearance and large, all-terrain (or all-texture) wheels because it might encounter areas of deep red tape or bovine excrement. And I guess GROSS should probably run on solar power like its Arctic predecessor. Unfortunately, that might lead to a lengthy mission, since the sun definitely sets in D.C. – and may soon do so on an extended (if not permanent) basis.

Just a thought.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email:  ddavison@houstonherald.com.

NASA's Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration.

NASA’s Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration.

NASA's Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration.

NASA’s Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration.

After landing on Mars 10 years ago, NASA's Opportunity Rover is still rocking and rolling on the surface of the Red Planet.

After landing on Mars 10 years ago, NASA’s Opportunity Rover is still rocking and rolling on the surface of the Red Planet.

 

 

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