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Headline of the Day: Robots Join Search for Amelia Earhart
by Susana Polo | 12:57 pm, June 24th, 2012
At little while ago we reported on the discovery of what appears to be an empty jar of anti-freckle cream on a remote Pacific island, a discovery that’s a pretty major find in the tiny field of “figuring out what ultimately, specifically, happened to Amelia Earhart and her navigator Freed Noonan as they attempted to circumnavigate the globe.”
The prevailing wisdom is that after a fuel or engine malfunction, Earhart landed on a reef of a coral atol known now as Nikumaroro Island. Unable to get the plane back up in the air without runway, the vehicle would eventually have been washed off the reef and into the ocean by tides. What the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery would like to do now, is go look at the Nikumaroro reef themselves… with the help of some robots.
TIGHAR has set their sights on Nikumaroro in the face of circumstantial and second-hand evidence, sure, but a lot of circumstantial and second-hand evidence. The picture draw by their research indicates that before their aircraft drifted into unreachable depths of Nikumaroro’s shores, Earhart and Noonan would have had the time to recover supplies and perhaps even salvage parts from the aircraft. From Live Science:
TIGHAR analyzed old radio transmissions originally followed by U.S. Navy and Coast Guard searchers in 1937 to help narrow down the search to Nikumaroro. It also dug up old paperwork from a British colonial physician who described human bones recovered from the island — bones that belonged to a woman fitting Amelia Earhart’s profile, according to modern analysis.
Several expeditions uncovered items that could have belonged to Earhart, along with signs of survival living. Such items include a jar that likely contained Dr. Berry’s Freckle Ointment (Earhart was known for disliking her freckles), a hand lotion bottle marketed to women in the 1930s, and a bone-handled knife matching the description of a knife listed in Earhart’s aircraft inventory.
The expeditions also found airplane parts in the ghost village left behind by Pacific Islanders who temporarily settled on Nikumaroro several years after Earhart’s disappearance. An old woman living in Fiji — who lived as a young girl on the island — pointed to parts of the island where people had found airplane parts.
One of those locations matched a big clue — an object sticking out of the water in a British expedition photograph taken just months after Earhart’s disappearance. Analysis by both TIGHAR and U.S. State Department experts suggested that the object fit the profile of Earhart’s Lockheed Electra aircraft landing gear.
What remains for TIGHAR to do is to actually go out there and look at the bottom of the reef, easier said than done, since the equipment they’ll need makes up about 27.5 thousand pounds of freight. The first step is sonar mapping, in which they will be aided by the Bluefin-21, an autonomous submarine that will roam the reef taking sonar and black and white images. Then, any suspected aircraft parts (no doubt obscured by decades of decay), can be inspected by researchers controlling the high-definition video camera and manipulator arms of a TRV 005 robot. No plans are being made to recover items or objects from the seafloor until it can be proven beyond a doubt that they are there.
Let this stand as a warning to all you adventurers out there: someday your exploits may be investigated by inorganic creatures beyond your imagining.
(via Live Science.)
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