From the April 2005 issue

Why hasn’t NASA flown a microphone to Mars? Will future probes, to places like Europa, carry audio sensors?

By | Published: April 1, 2005 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
mars polar lander
The microphone flown on the 1999 Mars Polar Lander (MPL) would have been the first on Mars had the spacecraft landed successfully. There is some skepticism about the scientific value of recording the sounds of Mars or another world, although everyone acknowledges the public-relations value. Resources and the competition to get other instruments aboard is fierce, and sensors viewed solely as “public relations” easily become sidelined.

Cameras were regarded similarly early in the space program; now, imaging plays an important science role. Microphones may follow a similar path. Once used on a mission, microphones may become integrated into the regular battery of science instruments. One example is an acoustic anemometer, a device that uses sound waves to measure wind speed.

The Huygens probe dropped into Titan’s atmosphere in January carried an acoustic experiment to be used during the landing. Serious proposals to send microphones to Venus have been made already. Scientists interested in the sounds of other worlds are pursuing several future possibilities. — GREGORY T. DELORY, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA AT BERKELEY

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