Mission to Mars - 08: Lava Tubes & Ice

Note: *Some* of the following material was covered during our "discussion" sessions, feel free to buzz past those if you already know that material.

LEARNING GOAL: I will be able to show at least 4 ways how ice found underground on Mars will be critical for human survival there.

OPENING QUESTION: How much water do you suppose the average American uses every day?

Part Deux: How much water per day do you suppose a human body *requires* to survive?


  • Sol (The Sun's proper name)
  • Solar System (Everything that orbits Sol, our sun)
  • Mars (The 4th planet from the sun)
  • Magnetic Field (Lines of magnetic force)
  • Atmosphere (Gas surrounding a planet or <on rare occasions, moons>)
  • Atmospheric pressure (the weight of an atmosphere per unit area)
  • Lava Tube (A tunnel formed when a solid crust forms over fast moving lava)


For some reason it seems that you folks aren't *quite* as jazzed by the National Geographic Channel series "Mars" as your MG&HPI.

That's ok, but if you find yourself bored sometime, please DO watch the first couple of episodes. As I've mentioned, it is available on lots of different streaming platforms if you have access to those.

There's a lot going on in that series that you can learn a lot from, just not any shoot-em-up-with-laser-blaster sort of nonsense...


If you we take yet another gander at the image below, you'll notice "hidden glaciers" in the lower right hand corner.


A few years ago a Mars Reconnaissance Observer satellite found water-ice on Mars, particularly underground. Our best evidence suggests there may be a great deal of water-ice on Mars... Take a gander at the first 2:00 minutes of THIS (the last minute or so shows a "Stellar Nursery" nebula thingy that is also kinda cool).


If you did take time to peruse the opening questions and perhaps did a wee bit of google-age, you probably already know that the average American person uses somewhere between 80 and 100 gallons of water per day.

That's now how much water we need to survive though, that's just how much we Americans tend to (over) use.

Human being need somewhere around a gallon of water per person per day to survive.

Water is also surprisingly heavy. One cubic foot (1 foot x 1 foot x 1 foot) of water weights about 60 lbs. That means it's pretty much IMPOSSIBLE to transport enough water from Earth to Mars to support a human settlement there.


Underground water-ice on Mars is just the ticket to support a human presence on Mars. Remember, Mars has only 1% of the air pressure that Earth's atmosphere has... so if we warm up that ice under "regular" Martian conditions the water will go right from solid (ice) to gas (steam) without ever turning into a liquid... a process scientists refer to as sublimation. You're probably noticing that is the same process that would cause your blood to boil that we talked about in Mars 04.


However --

It turns out water-ice is really, REALLY important for other reasons:

1) We need water to wash ourselves and our clothing

2) We need water to cook/bake

--- Ok, ok...so far so good, that's the obvious stuff. Let's get to the really cool ways to use water:

3) Recall that water is made of of oxygen and hydrogen: H2O.

If you've seen the movie The Martian, you'll recollect there is a scene where our hero has siphoned off rocket fuel from his rocket and is using some interesting chemistry to convert that rocket fuel into water. You can watch that scene HERE.

That scene, like virtually ALL of the science in that movie is quite accurate. However, you might not know that it is possible to reverse that reaction... in other words turn water into rocket fuel.

But wait, there's more...

Using a simple battery, it is possible to break down water molecules into their individual hydrogen and oxygen molecules. That reaction is shown below:

H20 + electricity → H2 + 02

(If you've had chemistry you'll notice I haven't balanced the equation <it's not hard to do>, if you haven't had chem, don't worry about balancing, that's not part of our lesson today)

Ok... so what, so you can get hydrogen (gas) and oxygen (gas) from water...

So what???

So WHAT???

We need oxygen to breathe!

If you've ever seen those big ol' SCUBA tanks folks wear on their back when they go diving in the ocean, it's pretty obvious that bottling up enough oxygen to breathe for even a short time means big ol' heavy tanks... and we DON'T WANT TO ADD WEIGHT to our rockets carrying supplies to Mars.

If we can get oxygen from the water, we don't have to bring it with us... that is HUGE!

Also... hydrogen gas is REALLY explosive! (Check out this FAMOUS catastrophe that emphasizes how quickly hydrogen gas ignites!)

Anywho, hydrogen gas can be uses as a fuel source.

Also, hot-shot chemists can take those oxygen and hydrogen gas molecules and turn them into.. Rocket Fuel


Take a quick second and jot down a list of all the different ways that Martian colonists could make use of water-ice.



Do just a wee bit of research and find the chemists' "recipe" for creating rocket fuel from water. Copy and paste that (with the URL from where you found it) into a Google Doc.

Now do a wee bit more research and find out how much electric current is needed to produce one liter of oxygen gas from the electrolysis of water. Copy and paste that information into the same Google Doc along with the URL from where you found THAT information.

Physics Students - drop that in our class submission folder HERE

Aerospace Students - drop that in our class submission folder HERE



Save your work to your Google drive, make sure you share it with me, and drop a link on our submittal form HERE