NASA plans to make oxygen on Mars, water on the moon
Remember that iconcic scene from the classic Arnold Schwarzenegger version of Total Recall, where they use an alien machine to turn Martian ice into a breathable atmosphere?
NASA hopes that a similar strategy can be used to help sustain human colonies on Mars as well as on the moon.
Traveling is insanely expensive, especially if it’s a trip to and from a celestial body like Mars we’re talking about. For a long time, scientists have been searching for a way to reduce these costs. Now it appears they may have finally done just that, only their proposed solution isn’t what most people would actually expect.
NASA aims to cut the costs of space travel by making oxygen on Mars, and water on the moon. And they will soon be sending rovers to these places to demonstrate the process.
One strategy for space exploration dictates rocket fuel for the voyage back to Earth should be made from the resources indigenous to the location. This “in-situ resource utilization” (IRSU) has been regarded as the most cost-efficient way to travel to and from alien worlds such as Mars.
“Every pound that you don’t have to launch from the Earth of dumb mass – things like water and air and propellant – means that you can add a pound of intelligent mass – an experiment, a computer, something designed to accomplish some job or give us some capability,” Paul Spudis, a lunar geologist with the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, told Discovery News.
“Doing ISRU gives you incredible leverage because you’re changing the fraction of intelligent-to-dumb mass on your spacecraft in favor of the intelligent part,” he added.
Missions to the moon and Mars
This 2018, NASA plans to conduct its first ISRU experiment by sending a rover to the moon. In this mission, called “Resource Prospector”, the rover will use its built-in instruments to look for hydrogen, water vapor, and other volatile elements. Samples will be acquired with a drill, then heated. Through recondensation, vapor could also be converted into a water droplet.
“A lot of the technologies have broader use than just lunar… it’s just a convenient location to be testing the ISRU technology,” said Jason Crusan who is the director of Advanced Exploration Systems at NASA headquarters in Washington DC.
The second ISRU test will send another rover to Mars in 2020. The contraption will collect carbon dioxide from Mars’ atmosphere. Using a filter, it will separate dust and other particles from the gas, which will then undergo a chemical process that will ultimately result in the creation of oxygen.
“It’s basic chemistry,” stated Spudis. “The real issues are not the basic process. The issues are what are the unforeseen things about the environment, about being in space, being on the moon, being on Mars, that we don’t know or we don’t anticipate that are going to impact that production.”
The scientists hope the tests will prove successful for at least one more reason:
“There’s an inherent risk of putting ISRU in the critical path of mission success, so it’s been stated that you need to do demonstrations. That said, a lot of times funding is associated only with things that are in the critical path for human missions. So we’ve been kind of in a catch-22,” said Gerald Sanders of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
“The importance of a mission like Resource Prospector or the Mars 2020 (ISRU demonstration) is that it kind of breaks that cycle, the paradigm,” stated Sanders, who is responsible for supervising ISRU programs. “If it pans out, you can start seriously thinking about how you would change your exploration approach.” — TJD, GMA News