LAS CRUCES – New Mexico State University civil engineering associate professor Douglas Cortes is investigating the amazing burrowing abilities of the common earthworm, found in soil the world over, to study the characteristics of soils on Mars and Earth’s moon and identify life-sustaining substances.

Cortes and his research team received funding from NASA and the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium to develop facilities from which to deploy a new generation of earthworm-inspired self-excavating subsurface characterization tools that are both light and small, so they could easily be transported to the moon and Mars.

The subsurface of Mars and the moon comprise a wealth of resources, from those that support basic human necessities, such as water, in the form of ice, to propellants such as methane, in the form of hydrates.“Subsurface excavation on Earth is somewhat simple. However, one of the challenges of geotechnical engineering is that extracting information from the ground requires large and heavy equipment to provide the force necessary to drive probes into the ground,” explained Cortes. “NASA is not likely to put heavy equipment on the Space Shuttle.”