Even though it is not constantly making headlines in the mainstream media, it seems that the Mars Rover, Curiosity, is steadily making discoveries while on its exploration mission across the red planet.
Its most recent find is that there is a surprising amount of water on Mars. The water is not in the form of oceans or lakes, but actually locked in the soil itself. Even though it is not in the form of a liquid, the presence of water on Mars has some strong implications for future astronauts. What does it mean now that Curiosity has found water on Mars?
Water in the Soil
Last month, it was reported that the Mars rover found water locked away in the planet’s soil. When Curiosity took a soil sample and heated it several hundred degrees, the rover’s sensor discovered that the most abundant vapor that was emitted was water vapor.
It appears that the soil is about 2% H20 by weight. Due to the consistency of the soil’s chemical make-up, this water could be extracted from just about anywhere on the planet’s surface. Laurie Leshin, a Curiosity researcher, states:
“If you are a human explorer, this is really good news because you can quite easily extract water from almost anywhere.” (1)
This new-found water has some pretty profound implications for future astronauts.
Implications of Water on Mars
The first major implication that the discovery of water on Mars holds is that it is a major resource required for a human colony on Mars to exist. At the very least, the initial explorers may be able to get all of the water that they need by extracting from the soil.
The rover heated the soil sample more than 1500 degrees Fahrenheit before the sample released the water vapor; therefore, it is a pretty safe assumption that any Martian exploration team will have to use extreme heat in their process to extract the water from the soil. However, human consumption is not the only thing the Martian water can be used for.
Once the water is extracted, it can be used for more than just human consumption. It would be feasible to actually extract hydrogen from the water. Once extracted from the water, the hydrogen can be used as a fuel source to either fuel vehicles or used in fuel cells to generate electricity.
Just as the hydrogen can be extracted from the water; so can oxygen. The obvious use for the extracted oxygen would be to enable the explorers to breathe. The extracted oxygen could be used to supplement the oxygen stores for space suits, living spaces and human-occupied exploration vehicles.
The fact the Curiosity rover has found water on Mars is an epic achievement for the Curiosity team. However, if those researchers can find an easy way to extract that water from the soil, then the future of space travel, exploration, and colonization would be forever changed.
The presence of water on the red planet not only provides the liquid required for humans to live, but could also provide the oxygen required to breath. Furthermore, the hydrogen could be extracted to provide a fuel source for those Martian explorers.
The presence of water could not only help establish a colony on Mars, but help that colony become an outpost. With a source of water, oxygen, and fuel so readily available across the planet, Mars could be established as a refueling and resupplying station. This means that Mars could easily be used as the last outpost for space explorers to refuel and resupply their vessels prior to heading out and exploring the rest of the cosmos.
All of this could be possible just because Curiosity was able to find and unlock the water from the Martian soil.