Sending mankind to Mars: Tucson-based science institute maps ice to support mission

Updated: Feb. 26, 2021 at 11:51 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -There’s a renewed focus on Mars lately, with some incredible images and sound coming from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Cheers erupted from NASA’s control room last week, as the Perseverance rover landed perfectly.

If scientists have their way, though, rovers won’t be the only thing roaming the red planet. Work is being done in our own backyard to support a manned mission to Mars.

Tucson-based Planetary Science Institute (PSI) recently published the most detailed map of where future astronauts can find the most crucial resource: water.

“There’s been an interest in sending people to mars for decades,” said Dr. Than Putzig, a senior scientist at PSI. “NASA has asserted that they are going to send people to Mars in the 2030s. Rather than just talking about it, they are actually taking steps to really make it happen ... one of which is our project.”

The day humans step foot on another planet seems closer now. However, visiting Mars will be a voyage like no other.

“For the moon, it’s not so bad because it’s closer to us, right? It took the Apollo astronauts [three days] to go to the moon, so they could take everything with them and take it back; fuel as well,” said Dr. Gareth Morgan, another senior scientist at PSI. “In order to get to Mars and send humans and equipment, it’s just a huge amount of fuel [that’s needed] at a massive cost. If you need to take enough fuel to get there and then survive the planet and get back, it’s just not practical with the technology we have.”

Astronauts will need water to survive, grow food and to make fuel for their return trip to Earth.

“But we can’t send people to the polar caps for various reasons,” said Dr. Putzig, “and so, the goal is to find ice as close to the equator as we can.”

Scientist have spent the last two years poring over decades of data and using cameras on mars, radar, thermal imaging and neutron spectrometers to locate areas where ice is likely buried beneath the surface.

“We are finding that it’s down closer to the equator than people had thought previously,” said Dr. Putzig. “A lot of work has been done to understand the Martian climate. Most of that theoretical work suggests the ice is only in the very high latitude; say above 50 degrees latitude in either hemisphere, and we are finding it down in the 30s. That is much more promising when planning human landing sites.”

The maps unfold a new world of possibilities. NASA plans to build off the data so that one day, we can take the next small step forward for man and the next giant leap for mankind.

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