January 31, 2014 - ExtremeTech is reporting that NASA is planning to eventually make and harvest water, oxygen and hydrogen on the Moon or Mars. If accomplished, this will be a game changer in the quest for space colonization.
However, right now with India sending probes to Mars, Chinas rover on the lunar surface and their astronauts preparing for a manned moon mission, and Japan planning to turn the Moon into a giant power plant, the future of space colonization will ultimately come down to who gets there first.
More on the modern day space race...
NASA is planning to make water and oxygen on the Moon and Mars by 2020
NASA is forging ahead with plans to make water, oxygen, and hydrogen on the surface of the Moon and Mars. If we ever want to colonize other planets, it is vital that we find a way of extracting these vital gases and liquids from moons and planets, rather than transporting them from Earth (which is prohibitively expensive, due to Earths gravity). The current plan is to land a rover on the Moon in 2018 that will try to extract hydrogen, water, and oxygen and then hopefully, Curiositys successor will try to convert the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into oxygen in 2020 when it lands on Mars.
In 2018, NASA hopes to put a rover on the Moon that will carry the RESOLVE (Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen & Lunar Volatile Extraction) science payload. RESOLVE will contain the various tools necessary to carry out in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). Basically, RESOLVE will sift through the Moons regolith (loose surface soil) and heat them up, looking for traces of hydrogen and oxygen, which can then be combined to make water. There is also some evidence that theres water ice on the surface of the Moon RESOLVE will find out for certain by heating the soil and seeing of water vapor emerges.
A similar payload would be attached to Curiositys successor, which is currently being specced out by NASA and will hopefully launch in 2020. This second IRSU experiment will probably suck in carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere, filter out the dust, and then process the CO2 into oxygen.
If either tech demonstration works as planned, future missions might include large-scale ISRU devices that are capable of producing significant amounts of hydrogen, oxygen, and water on the Moon or Mars. This would probably be the most important advance since we first landed on the Moon in the 60s.