October 31, 2014
Safely sending human explorers to and from Mars will be the challenge of a generation. We don’t yet know what clues astronauts will uncover in the Martian soil or atmosphere that reveal new knowledge about our solar system, but one thing is certain, Mars contains critical resources that can sustain human presence. Harvesting those resources will be key to pioneering the Red Planet.
To enable missions deeper into space than ever before, NASA is investing in technologies for In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU)—the ability to find and use natural resources beyond Earth. This includes refining and storing consumables like breathable air, drinkable water, and even using them to grow food. With ISRU, future astronauts may even be able to create rocket fuel and 3D printed parts and structures by using locally sourced minerals. In the short-term, ISRU is one of the key capabilities NASA needs to help astronauts rely less on supplies from Earth and become more self-reliant on expeditions far from home.
It will take humans more than six months to reach Mars with current propulsion systems. Because of the orbit of the planets around the sun, astronauts either will have to leave Mars within 30 days or stay on the planet for more than 500 days. The ability to leverage Mars resources could greatly reduce the cost of both mission types. NASA will soon test ISRU experiments that could help overcome this challenge.A resource prospector with RESOLVE payload roves on the lunar surface.