Image: Tumbleweed rover
NASA / JPL
The balloon-shaped Tumbleweed rover is steadied during its polar test.
updated 3/5/2004 5:33:34 PM ET 2004-03-05T22:33:34

A balloon-shaped NASA rover being tested for exploration of the Martian polar caps and other planets has survived a 40-mile (64-kilometer), wind-driven trek across Antarctica.

The robot explorer was developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and is being tested for its durability in extremely cold environments, scientists said. It began its journey Jan. 24 and spent eight days rolling across the continent’s polar plateau, NASA announced Wednesday.

The 88-pound (40-kilogram) rover used a global satellite network to send information on its position and the surrounding environment back to the JPL scientists.

The rover, a sphere 6 feet (2 meters) in diameter, can act like a parachute during descent, an airbag upon landing, and ultimately as an unmanned exploratory vehicle.

Its rolling mode of transportation could allow the “tumbleweed” rover to cover more ground, while using fewer onboard resources than the two NASA rovers currently combing the surface of Mars. Researchers hope that would free up space for more scientific instruments.

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