Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Water Pirates from Outer Space: One Step Closer to Reality

The University of Alabama in Huntsville envisions a future where microwave ray guns harvest water from the moon and possibly Mars. The idea is to collect water in those locations so that our space missions don't have to bring their own water with them, but it's just a short step of the imagination to imagine unscrupulous privateers looting the water reserves of planets across the galaxy.

There is ice buried just under the surface of the moon and Mars, but digging for it is risky and could damage the equipment. However, melting the ice with microwave radiation can turn it into water vapor that is then captured and re-condensed as water. I'm not really sure what happens if the ice that gets turned into vapor was actually a significant part of the surface that the ray gun was resting on, but I'm sure that the scientists have thought it through.

They actually want to take it further, imagining a "robotic, roving device powered by a nuclear generator," irradiating huge stretches of the moon's surface to get at the water underneath. They also want to melt the moon's surface into a solid, dust-free crust, which could be used as a landing pad or to bake bricks or blocks that can be used in the construction of lunar structures.

Sure, the idea of fusing the lunar surface with concentrated bursts of radiation sounds like a bad idea, but it's already getting irradiated by the sun, and it's not like there's an ecosystem up there to be destroyed. I say go nuts.

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The header image is adapted from a photo taken by Bill McChesney and used under a creative commons license.
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