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06/26/2013 09:07 am ET

NASA Robot Explores Chile's Atacama Desert Ahead Of Search For Life On Mars

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When NASA scientists want to simulate a journey to Mars they head to Chile’s Atacama Desert.

Known as the driest place on the planet, the 41,000 square mile collection of salt lakes, sand and lava is the closest place on Earth that resembles to surface of the red planet and the testing ground for a solar-powered rover that NASA hopes will scan the surface of Mars for microbes and other forms of life.

Looking like a bathtub on wheels, the rover, nicknamed Zoe, sports four bike tires, a main base and solar panels on top. It was designed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and began its two-week field trip to northern Chile on June 17.

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