Even though most people prefer its beaches or lush greenery, Hawaii has some pretty rugged landscape, especially on the side of Mauna Kea, a remote and cold dormant volcano on the "Big Island" of Hawaii. On the lower slope of Mauna Kea, at a site that resembles a lunar crater, NASA and its international partners are advancing future space exploration. Researchers there are looking at ways to search for water ice in lunar or planetary environments, and ways to extract, store, and use minerals, metals, and sunlight.
In 2010, a project dug up oxygen-rich soils, similar to those present on the moon. To utilize that natural resource, Canadian engineers developed a Regolith Excavator. On Mauna Kea, the excavator digs and then delivers volcanic material, called tephra, to a device that melts and processes the material with methane to produce water. The water is then electrolyzed, or split, into hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen is liquefied and stored for later use, and the hydrogen is used to regenerate the methane reactant or stored and used to power other experiments with a fuel cell.