Whether the first people to land on Mars are part of a NASA-led exploration crew or the first wave of Elon Musk’s colonization effort, they are going to need to survive on the Red Planet for periods of time ranging from a month to forever. According to Popular Mechanics, NASA is examining the problem of resource extraction on Mars. Minerals, water, and even gasses from the atmosphere will have to be mined and then turned into useful products. The first step for such an effort is a prototype mining rover called Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot (RASSOR).

RASSOR is a prototype that is designed to drill, scoop, carry, and then dump Martian soil.

It has not been placed on a launch manifest for NASA’s Journey to Mars, either alone or part of a larger mission. But something like it is a necessary step if NASA or any other entity is serious about operating on the Red Planet in any meaningful way.

The concept involved sending robot prospectors, miners, and fabricators in advance of the first human crews to Mars. The robots would mine materials, refine them, and perhaps, use 3D printing technology, build items that a Mars base or colony would need to operate. Other robots would extract oxygen, water, and even rocket fuel and store both away for future use by the colony. Habitats could be landed and outfitted. By the time the first humans put boots on the Martian ground, their home away from Earth would be waiting for them.

The first explorers on Mars will have their time filled doing exploration, traveling to various sites around the first base to take samples, running experiments, and otherwise advancing science and technology during their stay. The less time they have to spend on housekeeping, those mundane tasks that are necessary to survive in the most hostile environment people have ever tried to live in, the more time they will have to do what they came to Mars for.

Robots like RASSOR will be crucial for lifting the burden off the shoulders of human explorers when they finally land on Mars.

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