When it comes to space, we in Europe still tend to look to America - or, more specifically, Nasa - for guidance. But if we pull this off, we might finally be on the comeback trail after losing out by 43 years (er, and counting) in the race to the Moon.

Because now the European Space Agency is targeting Mars - and while Nasa's Curiosity rover is currently soaking up the headlines, and its three predecessors also did a good job, we want to go one better.

We want to send snakes.

In a press release researchers at Sintef (the Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research) in Norway have detailed their hopes for a new robotic snake explorer, which they say might be able to more effectively traverse the Red Planet.

sintef


"Manoeuvrability is a challenge. The Spirit rover was lost after it became stuck in the sand on Mars. The vehicles just cannot get to many of the places from which samples have to be taken", say Pål Liljebäck and Aksel Transeth at Sintef.

Their answer is a new rover which can crawl along the ground, and get into places that current rovers cannot. Snake rovers might also allow samples to be returned to Earth, be allowing the arms to disconnect and then reconnect to a larger craft - such as a more traditional rover.

"We are looking at several alternatives to enable a rover and a robot to work together. Since the rover has a powerful energy source, it can provide the snake robot with power through a cable extending between the rover and the robot. If the robot had to use its own batteries, it would run out of power and we would lose it", explains Aksel Transeth.

"One option is to make the robot into one of the vehicle's arms, with the ability to disconnect and reconnect itself, so that it can be lowered to the ground, where it can crawl about independently"

The research is obviously in the very early stages, and there are many challenges ahead. But if things come together in the next few decades or so we might just have a European snake on Mars. And then Nasa can take the Moon landings and eat their hearts out.