The Big Think

January 23, 2004

Water, Water, Everywhere

Filed under: Uncategorized — jasony @ 1:03 pm

Well, okay, not everywhere, but the European Space Agency’s Mars Orbiter has confirmed the presence of H20 in the form of water ice on the Red Planet. This news is potentially huge and very exciting for space nuts. It means several things.
First, water ice is proof that there was once an ocean on the planet (something that we were almost sure of due to the presence of what look like old river basins and seacoasts).
Second, on Earth scientists have discovered that wherever there’s water there’s life. If this is a universal constant (given enough time and energy in any given system), then we may be able to detect fossilized life on Mars. Heck, if there’s still water there, there may still be life nestled away under a rock somewhere on the surface-although the presence of so much iron oxide and peroxides in the surface soil (what makes the red planet red), makes it unlikely that we’ll turn over a rock and see a martian scorpion scuttle away.
Third, water – even water in the form of ice- is of enormous value to future space exploration. Water contains two very precious things to the mass-limited astronaut: hydrogen (for use as fuel) and oxygen (to breathe). It’s a relatively easy thing to crack water into component parts here on Earth. Fuel cells-type devices do it all the time. If we know the location of caches of water on the surface of Mars, future manned missions will be able to extract air and fuel from the surface instead of carting their supplies all the way from Earth.
Bob Zubrin is doing backflips today.
So that’s the current news. Combine that with the news that Spirit has started talking to us again, and Opportunity is getting ready to land, and it’s turned out to be a good space news day.

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