There's Plenty of Drinking Water on Mars

The trick to producing water for astronauts is to figure out how best to extract it from the soil and atmosphere.

Stephen Petranek: There is a lot of water on Mars and there once was a lot of surface, flowing water. You don’t see it because most of it is mixed with the soil, which we call regolith on Mars. So the Martian soil can be anywhere from as little as 1 percent in some very dry, deserty like areas to as much as 60 percent water. So one strategy for getting water when you’re on Mars is to break up the regolith, which would take something like a jackhammer because it’s very cold; it’s very frozen. If you can imagine making a frozen brick or a chunk of ice that’s mostly soil and maybe half water and half soil that’s what you would be dealing with. So you need to break this up, put it in an oven. As it heats up, it turns to steam. You run it through a distillation tube and you have pure drinking water that comes out the other end. There is a much easier way to get water on Mars. In this country, we have developed industrial dehumidifiers. And they’re very simple machines that simply blow the air in a room or a building across a mineral called zeolite. Zeolite is very common on Earth; it’s very common on Mars. And zeolite is kind of like a sponge. It absorbs water like crazy. Takes the humidity right out of the air. Then you squeeze it and out comes the water. And scientists working for NASA at the University of Washington as long ago as in the late 1990s developed a machine called WAVAR that very efficiently sucks water out of the Martian atmosphere. So water is not nearly as significant a problem than it appears to be. We also know from orbiters around Mars and right now there are five satellites orbiting Mars. We know from photographs that these orbiters have taken and geological studies that they’ve done that there is frozen ice on the surface of Mars. Now there’s tons of it at the poles. Some of it is overladen with frozen — or mixed with frozen carbon dioxide. But in many craters on Mars, there apparently are sheets of frozen water. So if early astronauts or early voyagers to Mars were to land near one of those sheets of ice in a crater they would have all the water they need.

Stephen Petranek, author of How We'll Live on Mars, details several of the methods a future team of colonists could employ in order to amass a drinking water supply on Mars. There's plenty of water on the planet; the trick is extracting it from the soil and atmosphere. It's a relief that producing water won't be a major nuisance for the eventual Mars astronauts -- that whole "unlivable barren wasteland" is a whole other story.

Related Articles
Playlists
Keep reading Show less

Five foods that increase your psychological well-being

These five main food groups are important for your brain's health and likely to boost the production of feel-good chemicals.

Mind & Brain

We all know eating “healthy” food is good for our physical health and can decrease our risk of developing diabetes, cancer, obesity and heart disease. What is not as well known is that eating healthy food is also good for our mental health and can decrease our risk of depression and anxiety.

Keep reading Show less

For the 99%, the lines are getting blurry

Infographics show the classes and anxieties in the supposedly classless U.S. economy.

What is the middle class now, anyway? (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs

For those of us who follow politics, we’re used to commentators referring to the President’s low approval rating as a surprise given the U.S.'s “booming” economy. This seeming disconnect, however, should really prompt us to reconsider the measurements by which we assess the health of an economy. With a robust U.S. stock market and GDP and low unemployment figures, it’s easy to see why some think all is well. But looking at real U.S. wages, which have remained stagnant—and have, thus, in effect gone down given rising costs from inflation—a very different picture emerges. For the 1%, the economy is booming. For the rest of us, it’s hard to even know where we stand. A recent study by Porch (a home-improvement company) of blue-collar vs. white-collar workers shows how traditional categories are becoming less distinct—the study references "new-collar" workers, who require technical certifications but not college degrees. And a set of recent infographics from CreditLoan capturing the thoughts of America’s middle class as defined by the Pew Research Center shows how confused we are.

Keep reading Show less