Science & Tech

Mars: In-Situ Resource Utilization

Chris Hadfield

Lesson time 7:12 min

If we can safely get to Mars, in-situ resource utilization could help us sustain life there. Chris breaks down the vital Sabatier process for creating hydrogen, oxygen, and methane on Mars.

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Topics include: The Chemistry Behind ISRU


All the gear that we're going to need doesn't necessarily need to travel in the same ship that we're in. A logical way to do it, and one that we're heading towards, is to send a cargo ship to Mars, automated, sort of like one of the rovers-- Spirit or Opportunity or Curiosity that's on the surface-- and have it do it all automated and land. Choose a place on Mars that's interesting to go, and then have that land and start building a small robotic base. And if you build it right, that base can actually start generating oxygen, generating the supplies that we need, processing the thin Martian atmosphere into the gases that we're going to need when we get there as human beings, taking out the oxygen, and the hydrogen, maybe using the water of the surface and processing that so that we can have water to drink and air to breathe. If you already had a little bubble, a supply of air and water, and a place that was generating power-- if we were using the resources that exist on Mars to create the environment that will keep us alive, every single thing that we can generate from the resources on Mars-- that's one less thing we have to put on our rocket and pay the big penalty of dragging it all the way from Earth. And so we work really hard on trying to develop how we're going to do that that we even have an acronym for it-- ISRU, In Situ Resource Utilization. How are we going to use the resources that are there on Mars. And Mars has an atmosphere. And Mars has ice, almost an unlimited supply, oceans of ice that are frozen in the permafrost in the tundra of Mars. So if it's got free gases in the atmosphere that contain oxygen, and if it's got hydrogen and oxygen trapped in the ice, then there's a way to process that, of course, that will released the things we need-- water to drink, hydrogen and oxygen as fuel and a way to generate electricity, and then oxygen to breathe. I think the first astronauts that walk on Mars will be arriving at a little place that's already built. They will be able to stand up, put on their suit in the 38% gravity, so you only weigh 40% of what you weigh on Earth, and go outside and open the air lock, and step into a little outpost that's already there. And so a big part of getting to Mars is not just building the rocket that will get us there, but how to set up a habitable environment on Mars in advance so everything doesn't need to be on board this rocket. When we land on another planet, whether it's Mars or the moon, when we're in our spaceship, what do we need in order to stay alive and where are we going to get it from? It's a really important question. The fundamental thing that we need, of course, is something to breathe, which is oxygen. And then because the environment is so harsh, we need some way to generate heat. And so hydrogen is a pretty nice resource to have up there. And then as soon as we've taken care of breathing and not freezing to death, the third thing we need is water. So if you...

About the Instructor

Impossible things happen. At age nine, Chris Hadfield knew he wanted to go to space. He eventually went there three times, becoming a commander of the International Space Station. In his MasterClass, Chris teaches you what it takes to explore space and what the future holds for humans in the final frontier. Learn about the science of space travel, life as an astronaut, and how flying in space will forever change the way you think about living on Earth.

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Chris Hadfield

The former commander of the International Space Station teaches you the science of space exploration and what the future holds.

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