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North America's Source for Oil and Gas News
February 2001

Vol. 6, No. 2 Week of February 28, 2001

NASA Ames Center looks at problem of drilling on Mars

Kristen Nelson

PNA Editor-in-Chief

If there is life on Mars, it would probably be microorganisms in water deep below the surface of the planet. Dr. Geoffrey Briggs, director, Center for Mars Exploration at the NASA Ames Center, told “Meet Alaska” that NASA is looking at ways to drill on Mars to look for water — and the life it might contain.

Briggs said NASA has been working with Halliburton, Shell, Baker-Hughes and the Los Alamos National Laboratory to identify drilling technologies that might work on Mars.

The first goal, he said, would be “to drill a hole down into the permafrost, maybe 100 meters as a trial of the technology; ultimately we want to go to several kilometers.”

The earliest drilling opportunity would be 2007, and one of the problems will be power. A very power-efficient system might cut out cores a meter at a time, Briggs said, perhaps grinding away at material needed to get the core at a rate of one core a day for hundreds of days.

Deeper drilling, into the multi-kilometer range, might occur as part of a 2014 Mars mission which would put astronauts on the planet to assist.

Los Alamos developed a melting tool intended for use in high-technical geothermal drilling, he said, and that’s one of the things NASA is looking at. The melting tool would also “tend to sterilize the hole on the way down” which would help with the problem of contamination issues.

Halliburton and Baker-Hughes are working on some very advanced systems, Briggs said, some so advanced they aren’t willing to talk much about them. He said the NASA Ames Center relies on working with people in the industry who “really understand the problems and make us face up to the realities …

“We do appreciate,” he said, “that this is a non-trivial activity.”

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