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NASA is embracing new paradigms in exploration that involve expanding our knowledge and leveraging resources as we extend our presence into the solar system. Space pioneering and prospecting towards Earth independence are necessary steps to achieving NASA’s goal of extending humanity’s reach into space.
Recent discoveries of what are thought to be large ice deposits just under the surface on Mars have Mars mission planners re-thinking how a sustained human presence on Mars could be enabled by a “water rich” environment. Water is essential to enabling a sustained presence, as it could enable agriculture, propellant production, reduce recycling needs for oxygen and provide abundant hydrogen for the development of plastics and other in-situ manufacturing driven materials. Before the water can be used to support sustained human presence, it must be extracted from the Mars ice deposits. Once extracted, water must be isolated to prevent evaporation (or sublimation if still ice) from the low atmospheric pressures and temperatures found on Mars. The purpose of this challenge is to explore and demonstrate methods to extract water from the Mars ice deposits.
Participating team members take on the role of astronauts on Mars who monitor and control drilling operations. Using a combination of autonomous operation and remote control, teams will operate their drills to extract as much water as possible. In order to demonstrate a wide range of drilling capabilities of interest to exploration and science, team member interaction with the drill will be divided into a period where “hands-on” operation and repairs are permitted and a period where physical “hands-on” crew interaction with the drill will be restricted. During all phases of the competition, the teams will be able to use a control system to “remotely” operate the drill system.