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Old 03-18-2013, 01:06 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rfp View Post
Two questions:
(1) how do rocks of non-biological origin form in water?
(2) how do scientists determine if the water were fresh or acidic?
1. Okay, it isn't so much that rocks 'formed' in water. That was a figure of speech. Rather it's that certain minerals can form as a result of chemical reactions in the presence of water. For example, if you set a piece of iron out in the rain for a while, a chemical reaction can take place forming rust (iron oxide). Such reactions can not only occur on the surface of such rocks, but can also seep into very tiny cracks that lead inside of the rocks.

2. It's pretty well regarded that Mars shows evidence of very corrosive conditions. It's also been discovered that some things such as hematite (Martian blueberries) and jarosite are present of iron oxide. Iron oxide would mean any surface water would've been pretty acidic.

On the main surface of Mars, the rovers Opportunity and Spirit discovered jarosite and hematite, both of which form in the presence of water. In this case, rather acidic water. By 'brushing' off the surface dust, the rock (albeit these rovers were not able to get in very deep) looked pretty much the same as the outer portion of the rocks. The point being that these were rocks on the surface.

On the other hand, Curiosity was sent to land inside a large crater where rocks exposed had formed deeper inside the planet had been exposed from the collison that formed the crater. Clues were already known that clay minerals were present in the crater along with areas that looked like alluvial fans where clays would form by the action of moving water such as streams, rivers, waterfalls, and so forth. This kind of water has a higher possibility of being fresh water, rather than the more stagnant water simply sitting on the surface for a while.

What Curiosity discovered was exactly what was hoped would be found. It wasn't expected to be found so soon though. What was interesting is that when Curiosity brushed off the John Klein rock the color was different from those up on the surface that Opportunity and Spirit had analyzed. Curiosity's drill could also bore into the rock. The rock powder analyzed by Curiosity's instruments found the chemical signatures of the minerals announced (see the video). The results point to fresh water conditions, at least at the base of the crater. It'll be pretty interesting to see what Curiosity finds in the layers when it eventually starts working its way up Mt Sharpe. These layers originated from much deeper inside the planet.

The idea of fresh water could also mean the conditions on Mars could have been suitable for microbial life to have gotten a start on the planet in its past. However, that's not to say that microbial life was ever present on Mars. We don't know, and that's not what Curiosity's instruments were designed for. That's likely for a future mission of Curiosity's successor to look for organic properties. Right now, it's first things first, namely to try to learn something about the conditions of Mars' watery past. Although I don't think Curiosity will be providing an answer, but we need to better understand water conditions of Mars to determine what would be required for a manned mission to the planet. Water is suspected to be below the surface. How far below is it? Is it greatly acidic or neutral? Is it frozen? Can it be turned into a liquid state? What would it take to even reach it? Or would water have to be sent from Earth for a manned mission?
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Old 03-18-2013, 06:16 PM
rfp
 
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Thanks for the explanations. Which lead to a few more:

(1) Are you saying that, on Mars, minerals were formed due to chemical reactions in the water, and that these micro-sized minerals served as "seeds" around which additional minerals of the same type could aggregate to form macro-sized pebbles and rocks?

(2a) Do you imply that simple biological cells can only form in fresh water and not saline? That is, did life on earth originate in fresh water ponds and not in marine seas? I think I read something to that effect many years ago.

(2b) What I was asking was: Given two rocks (pebbles, whatever), are there chemical tests that the Mars rovers can perform to determine if the rocks were formed in fresh waster or sea water?

(2c) When you refer to "acidic conditions" vis-a-vis fresh water, are you referring to saline versus fresh water?

(2d) Finally, do my questions make any sense or have I gone off the track?

Interesting discussion for me. I enjoy your snippets of video on the Mars rovers.
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Old 03-18-2013, 10:56 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rfp View Post
Thanks for the explanations. Which lead to a few more:

(1) Are you saying that, on Mars, minerals were formed due to chemical reactions in the water, and that these micro-sized minerals served as "seeds" around which additional minerals of the same type could aggregate to form macro-sized pebbles and rocks?
Please forgive any typos, etc. I had an exam done recently and found out that I have cataracts. My eyesight is important to me, so I'll have to have the problem resolved, hopefully in the next month or two. Right now though, although I can still see (sort of), it's getting increasingly more difficult to do. I may reach a point to where I can't reply for a while, but I'll do my best. It's quite a challenge. If not, I'm sure there are others here who can jump in.

The short answer is yes and no. For certain kinds of rocks to change, at least in part, something has to happen for a change to take place. The minerals as detected by the rovers aren't necessarily macro-sized pebbles and rocks. While some of the minerals might aggregrate or collect together, most are scattered and microscopic that settle in and around a given rock speciman. Rocks aren't as solid as we usually think, although you probably wouldn't want one to fall on your head.

Rocks can form from a variety of different conditions, or even a combination of conditions. Rocks are basically minerals that have collected together and often mixed with other minerals. For example, rubies that are mined can be a variety of different colors and shades. The reason is because at some point tiny microscopic cracks were filled by other kinds of minerals that give them their colors. Such coloration are due to flaws. There is seldom, if ever, a flawless ruby. If you inspect one with a magnifying glass, you can see tiny dark streaks inside. Minerals worked their way inside through tiny fractures.

It's a subject in itself that we could go on and on about. What is known about Gale Crater is that it contains clays with are very fine particles. Under pressure, clay particles bind tightly together to become rock. Just a note to say that different kinds of rocks can form under different conditions such as heat, pressure. Clays originate from rocky material that have been subjected to erosion, especially erosion from water. When clay is heated or put under pressure, any water between the individual particles either evaporates or is squeezed out and becomes hard, which is what happens when firing clay pottery. Anyway, various minerals can also be embedded or find their way into clays.

The alluvial clay fans of Gale Crater suggest that there must have been flowing water present for quite a while long ago. We've seen some areas in the crater with aggregate rocks that appear to have been shaped by moving water. How much water and for how long remains to be determined. Small pebbles originate from larger rocky material which have been subjected to erosion, so it might be reasonable to think that this process had gone on for quite some time, perhaps millions of years.

I'm not a geologist, but I wouldn't think that seeding, as you described it, would necessarily be a factor in terms of growth, apart from certain crystals, although crystals could potentially be introduced and contained inside certain rocks. As for the hematite, I'm not sure how that forms, although it apparently forms in saline water. The round shapes of the Martian hematite seems to suggest agitation by water.


Quote:
Originally Posted by rfp View Post

(2a) Do you imply that simple biological cells can only form in fresh water and not saline? That is, did life on earth originate in fresh water ponds and not in marine seas? I think I read something to that effect many years ago.
No, I'm not saying that. But I think it's worth taking into account that when organic compounds first began the process leading to the formation of life (on Earth), the marine seas did not have the levels of salinity that they do today. Most of the salinity in the oceans comes from erosion of rock surfaces that have filtered into the seas over a few billion years. Any pockets of water pooling up would have likely been reasonably fresh in comparison to today. So, did life form in fresh water? Yes, it's very possible. What was needed is for the water to be agitated, probably from winds over the surface of the water creating wave action and eddies. I suppose all it would take then is for organic compounds to clump together, which is bound to happen under those conditions, and the rest is history. As the salinity of the oceans gradually built up, the early forms of life clearly adapted to survive in it.


Quote:
Originally Posted by rfp View Post
(2b) What I was asking was: Given two rocks (pebbles, whatever), are there chemical tests that the Mars rovers can perform to determine if the rocks were formed in fresh waster or sea water?
The instruments equipped with the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity) is able to collect and vaporize rock dust and spectroscopically analyze the chemical signatures. Based on the results, it can be determined, along with other factors (like the clays, alluvial fans, shape of the target rocks, etc.), what kind of water was probably involved. we can find similar conditions right here on Earth.


Quote:
Originally Posted by rfp View Post
(2c) When you refer to "acidic conditions" vis-a-vis fresh water, are you referring to saline versus fresh water?
Salt is pretty corrosive, and there are numerous kinds of salts. Assuming that the Martian seas were shallow and spuratic, that is there were wet and dry periods during Mars' history. Ultimately, Mars lost it's liquid surface water. It appears that at least some of the water is located underground. Exactly what state that water might be in is hard to say, but you probably couldn't drink it without a lot of filtering.

The Phoenix lander observed what was thought to be some small chunks of water ice, but wnen exposed to the air, it apparently turned into a vapor state instead of a liquid state, and quickly disappeared. So there may be some water that's near the surface but it's in an extremely cold state. I've kind of wondered if the ice could have been frozen carbon dioxide.

Also, orbiters have detected dark streaks that move down along the walls of some craters that appear seasonally. It's possible liquid water might erupt from the upper parts of the crater walls and flows down in streams. It's pretty compelling, but again hard to say for sure. It'd be really cool if Curiosity could catch a glimpse of such an action, but it's probably too far from the crater walls for a good look.


Quote:
Originally Posted by rfp View Post
(2d) Finally, do my questions make any sense or have I gone off the track?

Interesting discussion for me. I enjoy your snippets of video on the Mars rovers.
No, you're not going too far off track. I agree, they're very interesting subjects. In general though, we'll have to wait and see what sort of things Curiosity turns up. I think they'll still be a few more surprises ahead.
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Old 03-20-2013, 12:45 PM
rfp
 
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Your post gave me a lot to digest. I probably will re-read it several times to assimilate your views.

Did you read Lynn Margulis years ago? She suggested several seminal hypotheses in evolutionary biology.

Just a few random thoughts before I get back to re-reading your post:

1) There is some discussion in abiogenesis of which came first: the lipid bi-layer cell envelope or random chains of RNA. Apparently an "empty" lipid bi-layer can replicate. It seems logical that the bi-layer should evolve first, because for proto-RNA to function, it must be "walled off" from its environment.
(Note: RNA came first; DNA evolved from RNA.)
Quote:
"It has even been proposed that the very first form of life may have been a simple lipid vesicle with virtually its sole biosynthetic capability being the production of more phospholipids."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lipid_bilayer
2) There is a theory (more popular when I was younger than now) that "naked" RNA developed abiogenically on crystalline clay substrates.
Google Graham Cairns-Smith, the first proponent of this hypothsis, or google "Clay Hypothesis" (use the quotes).

If the above two hypotheses were true, the question then arises: how did naked RNA enter the first cells' plasma membranes?

3) One final note: Fishes (and thus all vertebrates) evolved in fresh water, or at least in seas that had at most about one-quarter of the salt content of today's oceans. That is, today's oceanic fishes are all descended from fresh (or nearly fresh)-water types. Although the evolution of fishes and all vertebrates occurred in the Silurian era about 3 Byr after the abiogenesis of proto-replicating cells, it hints at:
(1) the length of time that fresh water was the prevalent form of water on earth; and
(2) the importance of fresh water to the origin of life on earth.
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Old 03-21-2013, 12:46 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rfp View Post
Your post gave me a lot to digest. I probably will re-read it several times to assimilate your views.


Did you read Lynn Margulis years ago? She suggested several seminal hypotheses in evolutionary biology.


Just a few random thoughts before I get back to re-reading your post:


1) There is some discussion in abiogenesis of which came first: the lipid bi-layer cell envelope or random chains of RNA. Apparently an "empty" lipid bi-layer can replicate. It seems logical that the bi-layer should evolve first, because for proto-RNA to function, it must be "walled off" from its environment.
(Note: RNA came first; DNA evolved from RNA.)



2) There is a theory (more popular when I was younger than now) that "naked" RNA developed abiogenically on crystalline clay substrates.
Google Graham Cairns-Smith, the first proponent of this hypothsis, or google "Clay Hypothesis" (use the quotes).


If the above two hypotheses were true, the question then arises: how did naked RNA enter the first cells' plasma membranes?
This gets beyond the point of the thread as it's generally more about following the trail, stops and dscoveries of Curiosity. The points you raise are interesting and could easily be an excellent subject for its own thread on the main Science & Technology board.

This doesn't really directly respond to the above points, but we know organic compounds seem to be pretty abundant in space. These primative building blocks been found present in comets and asteroids which may be how these materials, as well as water, were delivered to Earth and elsewhere around the solar system. The Allan Hills 84001 meteorite (which originated from Mars) is still under debate as to whether or not they contain the fossilized remains of Martian bacteria. That's something future rovers may be able to shed more light on. If bacterial life formed independently on Mars, that would certainly confirm that life is not solely confined to Earth alone. At the present time, we have no real idea if life ever existed on Mars, but it's beginning to look more favorable that some areas on Mars, in its early history, had conditions that were at least more suitable for the prospect of microorganisms such as bacteria to have evolved there, although probably not long enough for more complex organisms.


Quote:
Originally Posted by rfp View Post

3) One final note: Fishes (and thus all vertebrates) evolved in fresh water, or at least in seas that had at most about one-quarter of the salt content of today's oceans. That is, today's oceanic fishes are all descended from fresh (or nearly fresh)-water types. Although the evolution of fishes and all vertebrates occurred in the Silurian era about 3 Byr after the abiogenesis of proto-replicating cells, it hints at:
(1) the length of time that fresh water was the prevalent form of water on earth; and
(2) the importance of fresh water to the origin of life on earth.
Agreed. That was one of the points being raised about the prospect of fresh water sources on Mars. If, and it's currently a very big IF, life ever did evolve on Mars, areas that give evidence that fresh water was present in the past are good spots to explore.
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Old 04-04-2013, 01:07 PM
 
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Curiosity begins going solo today for the next four weeks during the Mars solar conjunction when Mars will be on the opposite side of the sun from Earth. The rover will still be busy, although commands will cease duing this time to avoid the risk of corrupted signals. This kind of conjunction occurs about every 26 months. This is the first time for Curiosity to experience such an event. Curiosity will be back online May 1.



Mars Rover Curiosity Begins Four-Week Solo Stint Today | Mars Solar Conjunction | Space.com
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Old 09-26-2013, 07:02 PM
 
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Curiosity Makes a Big Water Discovery in Mars Dirt

For every cubic foot of dirt (0.03 cubic meters), about 2 pints (1 liter) of water could be extracted from the Martian dirt. That makes it easily accessible right under your feet. One researcher seems to think "it's probably true anywhere you go on Mars." Maybe, but Curiosity in inside Gale Crater. Just how it is anywhere else up on the main surface above the crater is anyone's guess. Still, the discovery is indeed a 'wow moment'.

Curiosity Rover Makes Big Water Discovery in Mars Dirt, a 'Wow Moment' | Space.com
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Old 09-26-2013, 11:20 PM
 
Location: Wasilla, Alaska
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NightBazaar View Post
Curiosity Makes a Big Water Discovery in Mars Dirt

For every cubic foot of dirt (0.03 cubic meters), about 2 pints (1 liter) of water could be extracted from the Martian dirt. That makes it easily accessible right under your feet. One researcher seems to think "it's probably true anywhere you go on Mars." Maybe, but Curiosity in inside Gale Crater. Just how it is anywhere else up on the main surface above the crater is anyone's guess. Still, the discovery is indeed a 'wow moment'.

Curiosity Rover Makes Big Water Discovery in Mars Dirt, a 'Wow Moment' | Space.com
It seems rather odd that Mars would have one hundred times its weight in water than Earth has.

Earth Mass = 5.97219 × 10^24 kg
Earth Ocean Mass = 1.384 × 10^21 kg

Which makes the percentage of water by weight on Earth equal to 0.02317%.

I also have a problem when they sample one tiny spot on the planet, as you pointed out, and then extrapolate their findings to include the entire planet.

I am not so "wowed" by this moment. If anything, they should be embarrassed to call themselves scientists. To make such sweeping, grandiose, and completely unfounded statements is not science, it is titillation for the masses.

Source:

Modified from Clark, W. C. (ed.). 1982. Carbon Dioxide Review: 1982, p. 469, Oxford University Press, New York.
Ocean - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Old 09-27-2013, 11:34 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Glitch View Post
It seems rather odd that Mars would have one hundred times its weight in water than Earth has.

Earth Mass = 5.97219 × 10^24 kg
Earth Ocean Mass = 1.384 × 10^21 kg

Which makes the percentage of water by weight on Earth equal to 0.02317%.

I also have a problem when they sample one tiny spot on the planet, as you pointed out, and then extrapolate their findings to include the entire planet.

I am not so "wowed" by this moment. If anything, they should be embarrassed to call themselves scientists. To make such sweeping, grandiose, and completely unfounded statements is not science, it is titillation for the masses.
Yeah, I found the statement a bit overblown as well, more wishful thinking than anything. I agree, it's pretty embarrassing. You can't assume that any findings in Gale Crater is necessarily representitive of the entire planet. Still, if Curiosity did detect a significant amount available in Gale Crater, which is possible, that'd be a wow moment in my book. But there'd still be a lot more to confirm the data.

Historical
Looking back at Spirit and Opportunity rovers, they found the surface areas virtually bone dry, albeit an extremely miniscule sampling of the Martian surface. The exception being the discovery of Martian "blueberries" (hemetite) which indicates the likelihood that acidic water existed on the surface, perhaps as shallow oceans, probably present in Mars' past.
Mars Exploration Rover Mission: Press Releases

Other Findings
On the other hand, the Phoenix lander appeared to have uncovered some possible chunks of water ice that sublimated in a short time. One or two craters on Mars have shown what might be pools of ice. And ESA's Mars Express orbiter appears to have mapped the planet showing that water or water ice could be below the surface over a sizable chunk of the planet as well as at the poles.
Water ice in crater at Martian north pole / Mars Express / Space Science / Our Activities / ESA
Large Amounts of Water Ice Found Underground on Mars

Possible Seasonal Eruptions in Some Craters
Then lastly, photographic evidence of some craters seem to show what look like dark streaks in gullys that seasonally appear and disappear which might be the result of underground water bursting out from the crater walls. If there's any chance that might be true, then Curiosity's findings might be plausible, at least within Gale Crater. Curiosity had also discovered rock formations (streambeds) indicating evidence of vigorous flow of water over significant periods of time required to shape and smooth pebbles and stones.
NASA Spacecraft Data Suggest Water Flowing on Mars - NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Time Will Tell at Mt. Sharp
There's plenty of indirect evidence for water on Mars, in its past and possibly even now. The real clincher would be to directly show that it's still present today, even in small amounts. i'd really like to see a closer inspection of the walls of Gale Crater. Unfortunately, Curiosity is headed for Mt. Sharp. However, evidence indicating flowing water in the past near Mt. Sharp, might turn up something.

Liquid Gold and Manned Missions in the Future
If water or water ice isn't found to be reasonably accessible on Mars, that's going to complicate any future long-term manned missions to the Red Planet. It would mean a lot of water would have to be sent from Earth to Mars for such missions which would be pretty costly to do even as a joint international venture. In my opinion, it will be vital to resolve the water question once and for all either by Curiosity or a future rover before even thinking about sending people there. It's there. The questions are where to dig, how much can be extracted, and how easy would it be to get to it. I think we'll need to continue sending more specialized bots to do that kind of grunt work.
Mars - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Old 09-27-2013, 12:28 PM
 
Location: Wasilla, Alaska
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NightBazaar View Post
Yeah, I found the statement a bit overblown as well, more wishful thinking than anything. I agree, it's pretty embarrassing. You can't assume that any findings in Gale Crater is necessarily representitive of the entire planet. Still, if Curiosity did detect a significant amount available in Gale Crater, which is possible, that'd be a wow moment in my book. But there'd still be a lot more to confirm the data.

Historical
Looking back at Spirit and Opportunity rovers, they found the surface areas virtually bone dry, albeit an extremely miniscule sampling of the Martian surface. The exception being the discovery of Martian "blueberries" (hemetite) which indicates the likelihood that acidic water existed on the surface, perhaps as shallow oceans, probably present in Mars' past.
Mars Exploration Rover Mission: Press Releases

Other Findings
On the other hand, the Phoenix lander appeared to have uncovered some possible chunks of water ice that sublimated in a short time. One or two craters on Mars have shown what might be pools of ice. And ESA's Mars Express orbiter appears to have mapped the planet showing that water or water ice could be below the surface over a sizable chunk of the planet as well as at the poles.
Water ice in crater at Martian north pole / Mars Express / Space Science / Our Activities / ESA
Large Amounts of Water Ice Found Underground on Mars

Possible Seasonal Eruptions in Some Craters
Then lastly, photographic evidence of some craters seem to show what look like dark streaks in gullys that seasonally appear and disappear which might be the result of underground water bursting out from the crater walls. If there's any chance that might be true, then Curiosity's findings might be plausible, at least within Gale Crater. Curiosity had also discovered rock formations (streambeds) indicating evidence of vigorous flow of water over significant periods of time required to shape and smooth pebbles and stones.
NASA Spacecraft Data Suggest Water Flowing on Mars - NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Time Will Tell at Mt. Sharp
There's plenty of indirect evidence for water on Mars, in its past and possibly even now. The real clincher would be to directly show that it's still present today, even in small amounts. i'd really like to see a closer inspection of the walls of Gale Crater. Unfortunately, Curiosity is headed for Mt. Sharp. However, evidence indicating flowing water in the past near Mt. Sharp, might turn up something.

Liquid Gold and Manned Missions in the Future
If water or water ice isn't found to be reasonably accessible on Mars, that's going to complicate any future long-term manned missions to the Red Planet. It would mean a lot of water would have to be sent from Earth to Mars for such missions which would be pretty costly to do even as a joint international venture. In my opinion, it will be vital to resolve the water question once and for all either by Curiosity or a future rover before even thinking about sending people there. It's there. The questions are where to dig, how much can be extracted, and how easy would it be to get to it. I think we'll need to continue sending more specialized bots to do that kind of grunt work.
Mars - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
I have absolutely no doubt that there is water on Mars. We have known that for years. One of the reasons Gale Crater was chosen was because radar showed a high probability of water just beneath the surface. There is also a lot of surface evidence that water once existed on the surface of Mars, but that has not been the case for millions, possibly billions, of years. There still remains a very good possibility of water ice just a few meters beneath the surface in several locations around Mars.

It very well may be that in certain areas within Gale Crater the percentage of water by weight may be as high as 2%, as the article claims. However, I certainly would not extend that claim to encompass the entire planet. It would be like a probe landing in one of the oceans on Earth, and claiming the entire planet must be covered by oceans. Or a probe landing in Death Valley and then claiming the entire planet must be a desert world. How any so-called "scientist" could make such wild and unfounded claims is beyond my ability to comprehend.

Whether there is enough water ice on Mars to support a manned-mission to Mars has yet to be determined, but it would not surprise me if there was. By "enough" I mean enough to use for oxygen to breathe, liquid water to drink and cook with, fuel for power generation, in addition to growing crops. If they only have to take enough water to get to Mars, and can resupply that water resource once they are on Mars, it will make the journey more affordable.

As you say, what we need are some specialized robots capable of drilling for, collecting, separating, and storing, water before we send a manned-mission to Mars. If those bots could also separate the hydrogen and oxygen, it will help us determine how many resources we need to send to Mars. The more resources we can collect from Mars itself, the more viable a manned-mission to Mars becomes.

We also need a fairly large sample of Martian water to sample for organisms, which may still be present on Mars. It may turn out that Martian water is fine for use as oxygen and hydrogen, but not for consumption or growing crops. We have had the advantage of evolving with the organisms on Earth, but Martian evolution will be completely alien to us. If there are microscopic organisms in Martian water they may be similar to the organisms found in Earth water, or they may not. Or Martian water may not have any organisms, but still be unusable for consumption because of its high saline or acidic content.

There are still a great many unknowns about the water on Mars, but one thing that is known is that there is still water on Mars.
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