PASADENA, CA—As part of ongoing preparations for a manned mission to the Red Planet, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced Wednesday that its autonomous Mars Roomba vehicle had landed safely and commenced the task of cleaning dust from the planet’s surface.
A NASA spokesperson confirmed that the circular, 1,900-pound, self-navigating vacuum had survived the 8-month journey from Earth with all vital sweeping and suction systems intact and had already begun removing iron oxide particles and small debris from the approximately 55.9 million square miles of Martian terrain.
“At this rate, we project that the entire planet will be spick and span by the time the first astronauts arrive.”
“We’re pleased to say that after years of planning, the Mars Roomba is finally hard at work cleaning some of the dustiest parts of the Red Planet,” said senior engineer James Wurzburg, describing the jubilant scene at mission control after the Roomba successfully touched down and immediately started vacuuming loose pebbles and dust kicked up by its retrorockets during descent. “Everything from the bristle brushes to the satellite mapping software is currently functioning as designed. In fact, the Roomba has already made significant progress in tidying up the Schiaparelli Crater.”
“At this rate, we project that the entire planet will be spick and span by the time the first astronauts arrive,” added Wurzburg.
According to NASA officials, the Mars Roomba uses a number of advanced features to navigate and clean up around its environment, including independently spinning tracks of all-terrain wheels that allow it to turn a full 360 degrees while traveling at a maximum speed of 1.3 kilometers per hour, and an array of proximity sensors that can discern steep slopes and prevent it from accidentally plunging into a canyon. Additionally, NASA personnel confirmed the autonomous cleaning vehicle includes a contact-detecting front bumper that signals it to change directions whenever it encounters a large boulder or other obstacle.
For power, mission engineers confirmed that the Mars Roomba employs a portable nuclear reactor that provides up to three sols worth of cleaning time before the vehicle is forced to return to its self-charging station.
Prior to the Roomba’s launch, researchers reportedly spent six years testing various prototypes in a particularly dusty and desolate stretch of the Nevada desert, ultimately settling on a lightweight design that could remove all dirt down to the bedrock.
“If we’re ever going to establish a long-term colony, it’s crucial that the planet is tidy,” said project director Kaitlyn Mendoza, highlighting the potential danger of future astronauts tracking muck all over the place. “The first Mars cleaning rover we sent in 1997, Sterility, had a pair of radio-controlled mop and bucket arms, but those just resulted in getting the Cydonia region all muddy. It’s a unique set of challenges compared to, say, the moon, where we could just have Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin clean the whole lunar surface with push brooms.”
“But fortunately everything is going to plan with the Roomba, minus a brief period where it kept bumping into the Olympus Mons over and over,” Mendoza continued.
At press time, NASA had announced a $37 billion mission to send someone to manually remove a large piece of meteorite that was clogging the Mars Roomba’s filter.