With an apparent and significant amount of water locked up in ice, Mars is being studied by the scientists that want to understand how to extract the precious liquid. And the answer is via some very different mining techniques.
Recent exploratory missions have found that water ice exists on the planet’s poles and just beneath its surface. This discovery is good news both for the space agencies across the world and for the Netherlands-based organization Mars One, which intends to establish a permanent human settlement on the Red Planet.
The mined water wouldn’t only be used to fuel space missions, but could also be used for drinking and growing plants in this case. Quoted by Space.com, Ed Sedivy, civil space chief engineer at the security and aerospace company Lockheed Martin and program manager for NASA’s Phoenix lander flight system, says that “here on Earth, we’ve experimented with different technologies to extract moisture out of the atmosphere or soil”.
But, “at the concentration of water we’re likely to encounter and the temperatures we’re likely to encounter
[on Mars], how do we validate those technologies are appropriate?”, he asks.
Edwin Ethridge, a senior ISRU (In-Situ Resource Utilization) scientist and retired NASA consultant, might be able to answer: “for mining water off Mars, you want to get a high quantity of water”. With the help of William Kaukler, from the University of Alabama, Ethridge is studying the best way to mine water on the Red Planet.
In a lunar experiment, the duo used a conventional kitchenmicrowave oven to “cook” some simulated lunar regolith, the layer of loose soil and rocks found on the moon’s surface. The heat vaporized the frozen water, which was then collected and condensed on a chilled plate.
According to Ethridge, this technique would work in a similar way on Mars, with big advantages over any excavating methods, mainly because it requires less digging.