Landing a rover on another planet has never been easy. Even at its best, the process can require careful choreography of multiple landing stages and involve parachutes, airbags, and retrorockets. Once you've landed, your wheeled spacecraft will face obstacles of its own, including steep terrain and sand traps.
Vytas SunSpiral and Adrian Agogino at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. and their colleagues suspect there might be a way to make solar system exploration much simpler and cheaper, by embedding science instruments inside a flexible, deformable robotic exoskeleton. This spherical structure might be able to land without assistance, absorbing most of the shock of impact itself and so saving mass needed for more complex landing gear. Once the spacecraft has reached an extraterrestrial surface, it could use this same structure to roll around without wheels, propelling itself by making slight tweaks to its shape.