In a process that is out of this world, NASA is making plans to bring water and oxygen to the Moon and Mars in steps that could ultimately lead to colonization of other planets. It is just like something that happens in a sci-fi movie or a futuristic video game. Currently, shipping raw materials back and forth between Earth and neighboring solar system bodies is an incredibly expensive process, largely thanks to Earth’s gravity. In fact, according to a NASA report from 2009, it can take as much as $10,000 for each pound of space shuttle cargo to blast off. Given that a gallon of water is 8.33 pounds, that means astronauts had better appreciate each bottle of water they drink like it’s the last water on, well, the International Space Station.
It is no large wonder that NASA seeks to find newer and more cost-efficient ways of bringing water and oxygen to Mars and the Moon. Currently, the goal is to drop a new rover on the Moon by 2018 with the goal of extracting hydrogen and oxygen from the surface. This rover will carry something called the RESOLVE (Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatile Extraction) science payload, which, in plain English, means it has the tools to extract all the good stuff Earthlings need from the Moon’s loose surface soil (regolith). It will accomplish this by shifting through the regolith, heating it up and looking for trace amounts of hydrogen and oxygen, which can be combined to create water.
Right now, Canada’s pride and joy, the Artemis Jr. rover, has been testing the RESOLVE payload on Earth. With any success, Curiosity’s successor, which has yet to be named, will land on Mars in 2020 and begin searching for signs of life on the red planet with a microscope. The successor will also likely contain a similar RESOLVE payload which will help to create the first surface water that the red planet has seen in a long time. These are exciting days as humanity takes some of its first steps that could lead to planetary colonization. Check out the below video for more information on NASA’s 2020 Mars rover plans.
Moving on to Bigger and Better Things
The really nice part about NASA’s newest ambitious venture is that it paves the way for larger-scale space exploration. One of the main issues with modern-day space exploration, as previously discussed, is that water is just so expensive and difficult to get past Earth’s gravity. Proving that water can be extracted from other planets’ surfaces means that the next logical step would be to do it on bigger and more impressive scales. When this becomes a reality, space exploration will become a more feasible and cost-efficient process.
Of course, NASA is not the only organization that wants to harness water from places other than Earth. Planetary Resources Inc., a startup backed by billionaires such as Google’s own Larry Page, intends to harvest water from near-Earth asteroids, some as close as the Moon. Successfully doing so would bring trillions of dollars to Earth and it is not unlikely that at least some of that money would go towards helping other space agencies such as NASA explore the solar system and beyond.
NASA already received an $800 million budget increase this year, bringing their total funding up to $17.65 billion, which is certainly a good thing, although there is always room for more growth. After all, consider that the U.S. military budget is set at $612.4 billion for 2014 and it seems like NASA drew the short straw. With plans as ambitious as taking oxygen and hydrogen from the Moon and Mars and turning them into water, hopefully decision makers will see and understand the importance of what is happening with space exploration today. By understanding the value of these steps, that could lead to the colonization of other planets; additional support would make even bigger and better things possible.
By Jonathan Holowka