At Rayne Water Systems, we love to keep ourselves up-to-date on the latest water news, so in case you’ve been living under a rock on the Red Planet itself, by now you’re aware that NASA has confirmed the presence of liquid water on Mars. It’s a truly historic event, not just for the jokesters on twitter posting funny tweets about how Mars should send some of its water to California, but also for the scientific community, because the likelihood has increased that a manned mission to Mars could be successful, simply because any ship sent from Earth wouldn’t have to bring along all of its own water. It may only need to bring enough water to get there, and bring with it the equipment needed to filter Martian water to make it drinkable by humans.
The main problem with the water found on Mars is that it’s salty. Possibly just as salty as Earth’s oceans. And the salts are not like the kind you’d find in Earth’s oceans. They’re highly toxic if ingested in sufficient amounts. So with that said, let’s conduct a hypothetical water treatment diagnosis: based on NASA’s analysis of the composition of water on Mars, what would be the best approach to purifying it for the safety of future explorers or colonizers?
According to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s (JPL) Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars, or CRISM, the compounds most abundant in Martian water samples include magnesium perchlorate, magnesium chlorate, and sodium perchlorate. Substances like these are typically found on Earth as byproducts of rocket and missile fuel, as well as in road flares and fireworks, where they serve as a source of oxygen for solid propellants. They also naturally occur in very dry areas. Based on years of research by scientists at Texas Tech, perchlorates, like the ones found on Mars, are typically created when ozone reacts with chlorine. Without the presence of certain bacteria that are able to break down perchlorates, such substances will collect year after year, gradually increasing their concentration in water. When these substances are not taken out of water, they can cause severe effects on humans. Perchlorate is a significant thyroid gland inhibitor, preventing processing of the essential compound sodium iodide (the same substance they add to salt), and is actually still used by doctors to treat an overactive thyroid. Messing with they thyroid in adults can cause serious metabolic problems, while in children it can prevent normal growth rates, causing below-average heights. Obviously, it’s important to reduce the presence of perchlorates to a level where their effects will not occur. So what would be the best solution for treating water on Mars?
Perchlorate removal can usually be best performed via a physical removal process, for example through Reverse Osmosis membrane filtration. Your typical under-sink reverse osmosis unit (for example our RayneClear RO unit) can remove upwards of 90% of the perchlorate in drinking water. Although a basic under-sink RO unit would be more than adequate to deal with potential perchlorate levels here on Earth, one might need to add a second or third unit, along with and ion-exchange polisher that is rated for perchlorate after the main RO unit, to remain consistently below the safe limits for perchlorate, judging by the high amounts found in Martian water. Finally, just to be safe, astronauts may want to bring a UV disinfection unit. After all, where there’s water there may be life (although nothing’s been confirmed by NASA), and having a unit to destroy any foreign microbes potentially hiding in the water would be a good precaution, not only to keep the astronauts safe, but to keep us Earthlings safe from the possibility of bring any dormant Martian microbes back to our home planet.
In short, future travelers to Mars should have no major problems drinking the water there, provided they bring along the right water purification equipment and prepare themselves for every water quality eventuality. Because if you though running out of water in the desert was bad, imagine how you’d feel if you ran out of water on another planet!
To schedule a free consultation with a Rayne Water Systems water treatment professional on how easy it is to improve the quality of your water (Earth or Martian) and for a free, basic, no obligation water test, visit www.raynedrops.com or call us toll-free at: 800.594.3300