Breaking Rocks, Making Water: The Secret Formula for a Trip to Mars?

February 12, 2018

HOUGHTON, MICHIGAN – Michigan Tech researchers have been awarded a NASA grant to study ways to make water, oxygen and rocket fuel on Mars to edge a human trip to the red planet closer to reality.

The $500,000, two-and-a-half-year grant will test whether robots using powerful jets of water can mine and process gypsum on Mars to extract water and manufacture liquid oxygen and rocket fuel to ensure that enough water, oxygen and rocket fuel are waiting for the astronauts to get back to Earth.

“Why do we care about this? The reason we care is because rocket fuel is such a huge amount of the rocket,” van Susante says. “Of any rocket you send to space, 88 percent of that rocket’s mass is fuel—enough fuel just to get from here to low-Earth orbit. That means the 12 percent you have left must include the fuel to get to Mars, to the surface of Mars, back off the surface of Mars, and back Earth. It’s like going from New York to LA and you have to bring everything with you—the air, the food, the gasoline—and you’re not allowed to use anything around you; no pit stops!”

This means manufacturing air, water and fuel at the mission destination. It is van Susante’s hope that by the mid-2030s—a mere 15 years from now—humans will land on the surface of Mars.

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