The CBS News article Expedition Antarctica: A father and son's journey to save the planet says (in part):

The success of the expedition necessitated the pioneering of new equipment that would use renewable energy to melt snow and ice into hot water on the move in the Antarctic. So, while Robert had previously used jet fuel to cook his food and keep warm in the -40-degree temperatures, this time he and his son used biofuels derived from wood chips to do the job. They used solar panels, provided by NASA, that plugged into their sleds to melt ice and snow into drinkable water.

Question: I'm curious about what technology assistance NASA gave to hikers to the South Pole. I'm guessing there's more than just "here's some solar panels and a roll of nichrome wire for a heater." Were batteries or other low temperature resistant electronics involved, or special insulation to keep the melt volume from refreezing? What (if any) parts of the assistant are a direct result of NASA's activities in space and/or inhospitable environments even on Earth in general?

Antarctica hikers Barney and Robert Swan

above: "Robert and Barney Swan towing sleds topped with solar panels across Antarctica." From here. Credit: SHELL-Technical Partners

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    $\begingroup$ I'm wondering: since the conversion efficiency is of order 30%, wouldn't a more passive system, like a solar water heater have been more efficient for melting snow for drinking water? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Aug 25 '18 at 9:52
  • $\begingroup$ We may calculate the electrical energy necessary to melt about 2 to 3 litres of water per person and day. A solar water heater with a parabolic mirror needs to be aligned to the sun, difficult when towing a sled. A water heater panel would need to circulate a heat transfer fluid between the panel and the snow/water container. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Aug 25 '18 at 13:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Uwe no it doesn't. A solar water heater can be just a black box with a transparent window and some liquid running through some tubes. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_water_heating $\endgroup$ – uhoh Aug 25 '18 at 13:34
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding efficiency: a thermal system would need some quality insulation against convective heat loss (i.e. a vacuum). Maybe a thin solar panel actually works out less than 30% the weight of an insulated thermal system? $\endgroup$ – Blake Walsh Aug 25 '18 at 19:02
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    $\begingroup$ @anon I think Robert Swan would find your proposal that he open his jacket in -80C weather and insert several kilograms of ice similarly ridiculous! youtu.be/zCUeX7XdzW0?t=64 it's almost as if he's addressing you directly ;-) $\endgroup$ – uhoh Aug 28 '18 at 5:54

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