To enable deeper future space missions, NASA is focusing on technologies for In-Situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU) – the ability to find and use natural resources beyond the Earth.
The project includes refining and storing consumables like breathable air, drinkable water, and even using these to grow food, if required in outer planets.
“With ISRU, future astronauts may even be able to create rocket fuel and 3D printed parts and structures by using locally sourced minerals,” the US space agency said.
With ISRU, the space agency hopes astronauts can rely less on supplies from the Earth and become more self-reliant on expeditions far from home.
It will take humans more than six months to reach Mars with current propulsion systems.
Because of the orbit of the planets around the Sun, astronauts will either have to leave Mars within 30 days or stay on the planet for more than 500 days.
“The ability to leverage Mars resources could greatly reduce the cost of both mission types. NASA will soon test ISRU experiments that could help overcome this challenge,” the statement read.
In August, NASA announced the suite of instruments destined for Mars aboard the agency’s Mars 2020 Rover.
One of these instruments, the Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE), will convert carbon dioxide collected from the Martian atmosphere into oxygen.
The MOXIE system, once demonstrated on Mars, could be used during future human missions as a way to replenish their life support.
They could even use the oxygen to fuel an ascent vehicle to leave the Martian surface and begin the voyage home.
“The ability to produce oxygen on Mars decreases the amount of cargo we will need to launch in advance of human missions or send with crews that could significantly decrease the costs of those missions as well,” NASA added.