What It Would Take To Drink The Water On Mars


It’s official. NASA scientists have found evidence of present-day liquid water on Mars. But before you start thinking about a second home there, know this: that water isn’t drinkable. It’s chock full of salts called perchlorates that can be toxic to humans.

Several states, including California and Massachusetts, have issued limits on the amount of perchlorates that can be in drinking water, because it can cause thyroid problems and harm the gastrointestinal tract, skin, breast tissue and the placenta. That’s bad news on Earth, but on Mars, where medical care may be hard to come by, it would be an even bigger problem.

Just to put it in perspective, it’s saltier than the saltiest water on Earth: Antarctica’s Don Juan Pond. “Nothing can live in the brine of Don Juan Pond,” NASA planetologist Chris McKay, who wasn’t involved in the Mars water discovery, told me in an email.

So how are we going to quench our thirst if we do start building condos on Mars? Importing water from Earth is expensive and unsustainable long-term. And trying to imitate the survival steps taken by the stranded astronaut from The Martian — burning oxygen and hydrogen to produce water — would be extremely dangerous. Some have suggested setting up a huge humidifier to extract water from Mars’ thin atmosphere. Others think that loading up soil, which contains trace ice crystals, into a heater is the way to go. You could trap the water vapor, then condense it back to a liquid.

But the most effective way to keep us hydrated on Mars will be to tap its fresh water. There’s tons of it at the polar caps, according to scientists. The northern ice cap alone is 621 miles across. There’s also —> Read More