How to get water on Mars? Cook it out of the soil

Utopia Planitia on Mars
This vertically exaggerated view shows scalloped depressions in a part of Mars where such textures prompted researchers to check for buried ice, using ground-penetrating radar. They found about as much frozen water as the volume of Lake Superior. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / Univ. of Arizona Photo)

Scientists say there’s enough water in just one region of Mars to fill up Lake Superior – if only it could be extracted from subsurface ice.

So how can future Red Planet settlers take advantage of those deposits to produce the drinkable water, breathable oxygen and hydrogen-based rocket fuel they’ll need? Researchers at the University of Washington are working on a way.

Their research builds upon a technology that was pioneered almost two decades ago, known as the water vapor adsorption reactor, or WAVAR. Adam Bruckner, a professor in UW’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, worked with students to develop a device that could extract tiny amounts of water vapor from the Martian atmosphere.

The WAVAR device was successfully tested in Mars-type conditions, but there wasn’t any funding to move the technology beyond proof of concept.

“NASA has not really funded in-situ resource utilization for research work on that at all,” Bruckner told GeekWire. WAVAR does make a cameo, however, in the fictional tale of Red Planet settlement depicted in “Mars,” a miniseries airing on National Geographic Channel.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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