NASA: Ice, mineral-rich soil could support human outpost on Mars

Robots would build infrastructure, extract usable water from ice before astronauts arrive

He added that NASA already has robots that are sophisticated enough to erect buildings and extract water and gases. The issue now is making them strong enough to survive the trip there.

"The problem is that going from the laboratory to flight is a very difficult undertaking," he noted. "The systems have to survive the launch. They're pulling Gs and vibrating. They have to survive transit through space for six months and then a landing. And then they have to survive on Mars for a year. We have to make sure they don't vibrate apart and can work under very cold conditions and work in the presence of dust and low pressures. Those are very harsh conditions. Going from lab to flight requires a whole lot more development."

And that development, he noted, is being slowed by the fact that NASA's robotics budget has been hit in recent budget cuts.

This weekend, the Mars team is waiting for results to come down from one of the Lander's eight ovens, which heats the soil to about 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit so the gases that are emitted from it can be analyzed. The oven is testing soil from the same area that the Lander's robotic arm dug up soil to be tested in the wet chemistry set and the microscopic imager earlier this week.

And they're also waiting for further analysis from the wet chemistry laboratory about the presence of sulfate in the Martian soil.

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