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.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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