Why Water on Mars is Cool

As I write this, the gray skies overhead have opened up and released their heavy load in the form of a drenching rain. I listen to the white noise pounding of it and know the ground is sucking it up, my well is being replenished, and my garden plants are filling out wilted leaves that begged for a break from the heat.

This is the glory of planetary water.

Though highway drivers and many sports fans may curse the rain, we need it for the forests, animals, and ourselves. Just ask anyone facing drought or forest fires. Rain is always good.

Why is water on Mars a good thing?

As  scientists stated in the Space.com article, “Mars’ South Pole May Hide a Large Underground Lake”, finding water doesn’t automatically assume life. In this case, they believe the water is very salty and therefore unable to sustain even the most salt-oriented of microbes. However, water can be purified, which means that if we ever settle Mars, one of the basic components for human survival might already be there in large enough quantities to support a colony. Plus, if we found one source of underground water near the South pole, then the possibility of finding others increases. That is exciting news for future explorers and settlers.

Terraforming Mars?mars

Although many experts say terraforming Mars is impossible, I could argue that we simply don’t have the right technology yet. Yet a basic ingredient in colonizing any planet is water. The problem? Water is incredibly heavy. Weighty enough that lifting it out of Earth’s gravity well is prohibitively expensive. Sending up a desalination plant that uses local water sources could solve the issue for future colonists.

Basic needs of humans

When I started writing about settlers in the Asteroid Belt, I knew I had explain with how they received or developed basic resources: air, water, food, shelter, and energy. Food can be grown in the right conditions as shown in the movie “The Martian.” If we have sterile dirt, we can infuse organics to make it fertile soil.

In addition, water can be made from a number of chemical reactions, but it is better to have it in the place already. In my book, the big company ships take water from wells on Ceres, the largest asteroid in the field. In reality, Ceres is a huge block of possibly salty water surrounded by an outer shell of dirt. Since water can be used as rocket fuel, I can easily picture it as a solar system gas station as well as a water source for colonists.

The wonderful thing about water is when you split it, you get two powerful elements: oxygen and hydrogen. To support life, oxygen must be mixed with other gases to make breathable air because none of us can tolerate pure oxygen. We need an Earth-like mix that includes large amounts of nitrogen along with some water vapor and carbon dioxide. In that mix, oxygen is the only one that humans will use up so we need a way to get more.

This element also can be turned into burnable fuel if controlled properly. Hydrogen as well is combustible. The problem is that they both can explode. Remember the Hindenburg! comes to mind. However, they are potential energy sources for rocket fuel and heat if controlled properly. All space ships will need some kind of fuel since the further they get from the Sun, the less solar power will work. Therefore setting up a series of system “gas stations” along the way just makes sense.

So no matter what you use it for, drinking, breathing, or fuel, water is an essential source for any human presence.


Man in space

So you suppose this “refuel attendant” will wash the windshields?

That is why I’m excited about Martian water. Its presence brings us one step closer to the ability to colonize Mars. After all, if mankind plans on expanding to the stars, he will need to do it in colonial leaps through our own solar system. This includes having places established on Mars, in the Asteroid Belt, and  some distant moons. Each of these settlements can serve for refueling, resupply, and rest stops as we make our way to distant starts. The first step in this grand plan should include lunar and Martian colonization in our lifetime. Finding water on other worlds makes human expansion easier as we reach for the stars.


Oumuamua: Interstellar Visitor that Sparks the Imagination

Last fall, an ancient visitor wandered through our solar system, setting the astronomy world aflutter with excitement. Headlines read something like “First Interstellar Asteroid visits…” which of course is wrong. Since our system is billions of years old, I think it is safe to say that Oumuamua isn’t the first to fly through. It is only the first that we’ve actually noticed.Oumuamua

Ice or rock?

Still this starry visitor engages the imagination. We’re used to comets whizzing through from beyond Pluto but they’re pretty easy to spot because of the elongated tail and fuzzy coma. Not so Oumuamua. Its orbit originally looked like that of a comet, but its lack of cometary characteristics soon marked it as an asteroid or meteor. A closer look at its path through the solar system left astronomers scratching their heads. Asteroids follow closed loops around the Sun, traversing the same path over and over again. Oumuamua is on a one-time trip through out system, zooming in and back out again on its way to the interstellar depths.

The shape of this rocky traveler is surprising as well, elongated and relatively smooth, at least according to the artist’s rendition. I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees the spaceship nature in these photos since asteroid-skinned ships have been theorized in science fiction for years.

A visitor just passing through?

But consider this. What if Oumuamua really was an alien spacecraft? Some scout ship or alien ark passing through our small system on its way to a new home? What if they noticed our intelligent presence, which would be easily seen from our thousands of satellites and space trash orbiting around the Earth? Would they say, “look! another space-faring species”? Or would it be more like, “Hey, change directions just a little and don’t slow down”?

I imagine that visiting our planet might seem like a socialite driving near a filthy mobile home at the end of a run-down trailer park. You know what I’m talking about. The one where empty beer cans decorate the yard and an old refrigerator sits outside the door not far from an overstuffed chair with rips in the seat.

And like the socialite, the extraterrestrial would be, “Don’t look. Don’t answer if they call out.” We are still so primitive compared to what we could be, and the trash around our planet reflects that. One day we’ll have to clean up all the floating debris, which will only increase as we continue to push away from our Earthly ties. Yes, most of it can burn up on reentry but some items are too large to do so. Some have made it to the ground and caused damage. In addition, such massive amounts of space trash endanger our other satellites.

Economics of Space Trash

In addition, a great deal of money is spent every year monitoring the trash. Many organizations are looking at ways to clean up all of this debris, but the efforts are not cheap or simple when considering the physics of objects travelling at high speeds in orbit. However, since many of these old vehicles and defunct satellites include rare metals, the recycling rewards could be well worth the efforts.

So it is easy to imagine a space-faring future where ships of all kinds, from pleasure crafts and shuttles to independent family units and huge shippers, could fill the system. When interstellar visitors like Oumuamua come through again, we’ll be ready to explore or mine them for their resources. And if they are an alien space ship out for jaunt, we don’t want them to think we are the trashy, diseased-filled neighbors. We must clean up our world as we go forward.

Future Men

Therefore, as humanity spreads to Mars and beyond, so will the space trash unless we find ways to clean it up. “Rag and bone men,” small entrepreneurs living aboard their own ships, could make a living gathering and recycling old garbage back into precious metals before delivering them to one of the many space ports. After all, we have organizations now that strip down old technology for the gold, platinum, silver and more. Not everyone in the space faring age is going to be a Captain Kirk or Zapp Brannigan. Some will be miners or shippers, merchants or corporate management, and many will have never seen Earth’s blue skies. Some will live on the edges with antiquated technology, trying to make a living the best they can on the scraps scattered across the vastness.

And they will all have stories worthy of telling.

“Space Debris FAQs” Aerospace, http://www.aerospace.org/cords/all-about-debris-and-reentry/space-debris-faq/  March 22, 2018.

Bennett, Jay “Interstellar Asteroid ‘Oumuamua Likely Ejected From a Binary Star” Popular Mechanics, https://www.popularmechanics.com/space/deep-space/a19494278/interstellar-asteroid-oumuamua-likely-ejected-from-a-binary-star-system/  March 22, 2018 (photo from the same source).