NASA images have allowed scientists to discover eight sites on Mars' surface with thick underground ice sheets. A study published Thursday by the journal Science contends this is a "game changer" for future human outposts.
One of the co-authors of the study, planetary scientist Shane Byrne, said: “Here we have what we think is almost pure water ice buried just below the surface. You don’t see a high-tech solution [...] You can go out with a bucket and shovel and just collect as much water as you need."
Scientists previously knew of the existence of ice in Mars' polar caps and shallow ground ice on its surface. However, as the scientists note, the polar caps are inhospitable and ground ice was limited.
Colin Dundas, research geologist who led the study said “it was surprising to find ice exposed at the surface at these places. In the mid-latitudes, it’s normally covered by a blanket of dust or regolith.”
The study relied on images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been studying the planet's atmosphere and terrain since 2006.
According to National Geographic "human missions to Mars would likely rely on extracting water from the local environment, either baking it out of hydrated minerals or mining it from ice deposits. Humans would then drink the water or break it down into hydrogen and oxygen, which could then be used to make breathable air and methane for rocket fuel."
New missions to Mars scheduled for 2020 will send planetary rovers, or space exploration vehicles, that will provide deeper knowledge on what lies beneath Mars' surface.