National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has invited applications from university-level engineering students to help in developing a method to harvest water on the Moon and Mars. The space agency has announced the commencement of the 2021 Moon to Mars Ice and Prospecting Challenge. Students who are wishing to participate are expected to design and build hardware which would allow astronauts to harvest water on the Moon and Mars.
Interested teams must submit a project plan by November 24, 2020. Up to 10 teams will be selected in December, which will get a $10,000 (Rs 7.5 lakh, approximately) development stipend to build and test their systems over the next six months. The systems developed by each team will be displayed at a three-day competition at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, next June 2021.
In its official notification, NASA explained that water is essential for extended lunar and Mars expeditions, whether astronauts drink it, grow plants with it, or make rocket propellant from it. But water is also heavy and expensive to bring from Earth. Therefore harvesting water on the Moon and Mars for longer expeditions would become essential.
NASA chief technologist Douglas Terrier said: "The water we will find when the next men and first women explore the lunar surface for the Artemis programme is liable to be mixed with contaminants that need to be removed before drinking, or use as fuel."
NASA has given a brief idea of the type of machine they want the students to build. According to NASA, students should "design and build hardware that can identify, map, and drill through various subsurface layers, then extract water from an ice block in a simulated off-world testbed."
The space agency has said that students will have to understand that harvesting water on earth would be way different from harvesting water on Moon or Mars. They would have to integrate this understanding in the type of machine they are building.