There is an alien world out there that we have yet to thoroughly explore and it’s teeming with life. At depths of 36,000 feet, our own planet’s ocean floor is that mysterious world. We know more about the surface of the moon than what exists in the deepest depths of our oceans. Areas the size of Australia have never been investigated on our own planet. Budget restrictions of organizations like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have been a hindrance in the advancement of oceanic exploration. However, NASA Scientists may have found a mutually beneficial solution.
NASA scientists have teamed up with the Woods Hole Oceanic Institute to develop a robot that will investigate and document the deepest parts of our oceans. Their hope is that the same technology can be applied to exploratory missions in space. This robot is known fondly as Orpheus. Orpheus is designed to withstand the pressure and darkness of being 20,000-36,000 feet underwater. Operating autonomously, Orpheus will eventually reach the ocean floor, gather samples, and return to the surface. The success of Orpheus will be no small feat. The pressure experienced at those depths is equivalent to the weight of 16,747 airliners concentrated on the surface of a dime. Deep in this inhospitable zone, creatures flourish. In order to identify these creatures, Orpheus will be outfitted with image recognition technology, which is similar to the technology being used in cars.
Orpheus passed its first test in the waters off the shore of Cape Cod in September, 2018. The drone’s applications in exploratory space missions could begin as soon as 2023. Likely, Orpheus would be sent to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, specifically Europa. In order to explore Europa, Orpheus would need to bore a hole through the moon’s icy crust and then dive to the bottom of alien seas, 100 miles beneath the surface. The challenges Orpheus would face in completing this mission are not small, however its success on planet earth will be the first step towards reaching that goal. With Orpheus, NASA scientists hope to determine Europa’s ability to support life.
Much like the Space Race, the Ocean Race is supported by government as well as private institutions. OceanX, for example, is one of the entities who pledge to fund the research and development of Orpheus. The name OceanX calls to mind Elon Musk’s SpaceX and though they are unrelated, this emphasizes the importance of oceanic exploration in tandem with space exploration. The ocean controls much of the planet’s climate yet we know very little, comparatively, about it. It absorbs 90% of the Earth’s accumulating heat caused by global warming. Rising sea levels, water acidity, and massive storm systems like El Niño and La Niña are topics of grave concern which require study. NASA has partnered with the NOAA to launch satellites Jason 1 and Jason 2 for just this reason. These satellites are a part of the Ocean Surface Topography Mission. They monitor the sea level rise and the relationship between the ocean and climate change.
In the coming years, keep an eye on the sky as well as the seas. Scientists have not one, but two new frontiers to explore.