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Question Your World: What Does Water on Mars Mean for the Future?

After years of looking at extremely distant landscapes via photos and taking many guesses as to why Mars has the landscape it does, we finally have a little bit of the answer. Turns out that the Curiosity rover has scooped up some soil and identified water! So, what does water on Mars mean for the future? Learn more in this week’s Question Your World Radio Report from the Science Museum of Virginia.

Here we are at the beginning of fall with the last remnants of summer vacation turning into happy memories of warmer months. A lot of people spend a lot of time vacationing at exotic beaches, near and far. This has been something that humanity has been enacting since the late 1700's when the earliest 'tourists' would travel to warmer costal European beaches. Since then a lot has changed in the industry, but the industry has done nothing but gain customers. We love going to exotic watery places to relax and…umm…sit. So what does this have to do with Mars? Perhaps not too much right now, but the future is wide open.

Recently the MSL Curiosity rover has scooped up a plot of Martian real estate and reported back that there is in fact "water in them-thar-hills." In the one cubic foot of soil the rover has found about 2 pints worth of water, not bad. So, what does this mean?  Well first a high five and celebration is in order. After all humanity has been looking up at that red dot in the sky for a long time wondering what the past, present, and future of that world could be. Now we're happy to celebrate that all those theories on river beds, bank pebbles, and other evidence of once flowing water makes total sense. The difficult part is to have a full report based on this one finding, but it's a really good start! 

The amount of water in this one cubic square foot is enough to allow the science community to ponder the many ways of using Mars' natural resource to our advantage for future travelers. Scientists believe that future generations of travelers would be able to extract the water for whatever use they need. This discovery is astounding and gives more reason to start thinking about landing humans there. We sure do love water and have a very difficult time without it, but perhaps new technologies could easily manipulate the dispersed water into a concentrated pool of use-able, life supporting blue gold. This may seem a bit too soon to be thinking about, but this kind of research takes years to actualize. So, an early start is not a bad idea. 

First, scientists need to plan for conditions in which we can safely take humans there, safely use the water, avoid the harsh and dangerous on-goings of the red planet, and keep the process going to allow for future visits and perhaps even colonization. We're lucky enough to bear witness to the historic step of discovering the water, but future generations may very well be able to enjoy the water on Mars. They may even be able to eventually have vacation packages to an exotic Martian beach, where they can traverse a long journey through space, have the incredible experience of setting foot on another terrestrial body, and find an exotic Martian beach where they can finally…ummsit.

The future's looking really awesome, folks! 

Article by Prabir Mehta, Science Museum of Virginia

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