NASA scientists are developing rocket fuel made from Martian soil

Scientists at NASA are currently developing methane-creating robots to overcome this challenge.

  • It's a problem that NASA scientists are working on because the weight of the fuel it would take to travel both to and from the Red Planet is immense.
  • What they're proposing now would actually gather fuel from water in the Mars soil.
  • Once that's extracted, then it's fairly simple to separate out hydrogen. When that is combined with carbon from the atmosphere ... Voila! Methane.

Scientists at NASA are working on a bit of alchemy that would greatly improve the chances of a mission headed there of actually returning. Otherwise, we'd have one of those desperately sad situations like in old science fiction movies where astronauts are simply stuck on the planet with no way to return.

The problem is this: Hauling fuel to Mars so that the return flight back to Earth actually succeeds is not just inefficient, but it would also take up a ton of precious cargo space. In order to solve this dilemma, NASA is currently working on utilizing solutions that are already on the planet itself.

One possible idea is to turn water from Martian soil, known as "regolith" (as is any topsoil and rock layer on any planetary body) into its components, hydrogen and oxygen. Then, once that is accomplished, combine carbon from Mars' atmosphere with hydrogen, creating... methane!

Fuel from regolith?

Methane from under the ice is ignited. On Earth, anyway. Image from Imgur, based on a video by Rune Patterson

The robot that will do this, known as RASSOR (Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot), is shown below in testing, and it illustrates how the surface material will be converted for use both as rocket fuel and as energy for inhabitants of a colony on such a planet. The idea is to send the robots to the planet long before humans arrive so that the methane would be stored up and ready to use.

The Martians: This artist's rendering shows excavating robots that may one day operate on Mars, long before humans ever set foot on the planet. Image source: Marek Denko/NoEmotion

"This technology will one day allow humans to live and work on Mars," said NASA Team Lead Kurt Leucht, "and return to Earth to tell the story."

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Keep reading Show less

Beyond Meat announces plan to sell ‘ground beef’ in stores. Shares skyrocket.

Beyond Beef sizzles and marbleizes just like real beef, Beyond Meat says.

Culture & Religion
  • Shares of Beyond Meat opened at around $200 on Tuesday morning, falling to nearly $170 by the afternoon.
  • Wall Street analysts remain wary of the stock, which has been on a massive hot streak since its IPO in May.
  • Beyond Meat faces competition from Impossible Foods and, as of this week, Tyson.
Keep reading Show less

Thumbs up? Map shows Europe’s hitchhiking landscape

Average waiting time for hitchhikers in Ireland: Less than 30 minutes. In southern Spain: More than 90 minutes.

Image: Abel Suyok
Strange Maps
  • A popular means of transportation from the 1920s to the 1980s, hitchhiking has since fallen in disrepute.
  • However, as this map shows, thumbing a ride still occupies a thriving niche – if at great geographic variance.
  • In some countries and areas, you'll be off the street in no time. In other places, it's much harder to thumb your way from A to B.
Keep reading Show less

Can you guess which state has the most psychopaths?

A recent study used data from the Big Five personality to estimate psychopathy prevalence in the 48 contiguous states and Washington, D.C.

Surprising Science
  • The study estimated psychopathy prevalence by looking at the prevalence of certain traits in the Big Five model of personality.
  • The District of Columbia had the highest prevalence of psychopathy, compared to other areas.
  • The authors cautioned that their measurements were indirect, and that psychopathy in general is difficult to define precisely.
Keep reading Show less