NASA Wants to Send Robotic Mission to Search for Ice on Mars
This artist illustration shows four orbiters as part of the mission concept of the International Mars Ice Mapper (I-MIM). An orbiter moves deep and to the left above the surface of Mars and detects buried water ice using a radar device and a large reflector antenna. At a higher altitude, Mars orbits three telecommunications orbits, one of which returns data to Earth. NASA
If we are ever to send people to Mars, we must find resources there that can help sustain a mission. One of the most important resources for crewed missions is water, and now international space agencies want to find a way to locate it on the red planet.
NASA has teamed up with the Italian Space Agency (ASI), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and the Japanese Aerospace Agency (JAXA) to announce that they are investigating the construction of a robotic orbiter called Mars Ice Mapper, which is after and seek to map the location and depth of the underground water ice on Mars.
Scientists know that there is a lot of ice at the poles of Mars and in large craters, but they also want to know where the ice is on the rest of the planet. Ice is believed to be abundant just below the surface in many areas, which is potentially a very useful resource for future crewed missions. Instead of having to hike all the way to the poles for ice, future astronauts could dig it out of the ground – provided they know where to look.
The idea is that robotic missions like the Mars Ice Mapper could pave the way for human missions, NASA officials explained. “This innovative partnership model for Mars Ice Mapper combines our global experience and enables general cost sharing to make this mission more viable for all interested parties,” said Jim Watzin, NASA senior advisor on agency architecture and mission alignment statement. “The study of humans and robots goes hand in hand, with the latter helping to pave the way for smarter and safer human missions further into the solar system. Together we can prepare humanity for our next big leap – the first human mission to Mars. “
In addition to helping with human missions, it would also be scientifically valuable to learn more about ice on Mars. For example, if researchers could collect ice cores from the planet, they could see a record of the planet’s geological history. It could also help in finding evidence of ancient life there.
“In addition to helping with plans for future human missions to Mars, learning about underground ice provides significant opportunities for scientific discovery,” said Eric Ianson, associate director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division and director of the Mars Exploration Program. “Mapping the near-surface water ice would reveal a still-hidden part of the Mars hydrosphere and the layer above, which can help uncover the history of environmental changes on Mars and answer fundamental questions about whether Mars was ever home to the microbial Life or maybe today. “