For years human wondered if there was water on Mars, we now know that there is, in fact, water on Mars, but it’s either frozen or salty beyond human use.
Then we wondered if humans could ever live on Mars, and if yes, how will we survive on the barren planet?
Now, with decades of research, we are finally at a point where we may actually think of living on the red planet. But being there would require some form of sustenance.
Agriculture, fuel, even air to breathe and so on. Everything cannot be carried on the red planet. So scientists at Washington University in St. Louise have come up with a solution: turn the unpotable water on Mars into fuel and oxygen.
They have devised an electric system to break apart the salty water to its constituent molecules; oxygen and hydrogen. They are fairly certain that their experiment on Earth can survive the Martian environment with temperatures as low as -33 degrees Fahrenheit.
NASA had formerly launched their own Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment with the 2020 Mars Rover in July. However, this new brine electrolyser creators claim it is 25 times more productive with its oxygen input as compared to NASA’s device.
“Our Martian brine electrolyzer radically changes the logistical calculus of missions to Mars and beyond,” said Vijay Ramani, lead author of the study.
He added that this technology isn’t limited to space exploration but has applications closer to the home where salty ocean water can be converted into viable fuel and oxygen source. In fact, it wasn’t even created with Mars water focus but they simply wanted to convert brine into fuel and oxygen.
The device has two parts. One side splits the water molecule to form hydroxyl ion (OH) which then splits further. the technology isn’t exactly new. people have been splitting water for decades. But it’s expensive and surely couldn’t survive the harsh environment of Mars.
Talking to Inverse, Ramani said when he read the report about saltwater on Mars, he wondered if his experiment could be applied there.
The report in question is from Phoenix Lander (2008) which arrived on Mars during a mission to explore the history of water on Mars. The lander discovered ice samples from two-inch deep trench along with traces of magnesium perchlorate in the Martian soil.
Ramani said they are now trying to make a portable version that can be operated on Mars.
“Paradoxically, the dissolved perchlorate in the water, so-called impurities, actually help in an environment like that of Mars,” said Shrihari Sankarasubramanian, one of the co-authors.
NASA is set to land its first group of astronauts on the planet by 2033. Both fuel and oxygen will be a necessity for humans there.
It remains to be seen of they will be adapting Ramani’s technology into their mission plan.