NASA-funded research seeks to produce breathable oxygen on Mars
Establishing and maintaining a permanent human presence on Mars promises to be one of the most technologically challenging ventures ever undertaken by our species. A key aspect of the endeavor is to create an environment in which human beings can survive and flourish – this requires a ready supply of oxygen. NASA is working with Indiana-based company Techshot Inc. in order to develop a solution with the potential to produce an abundant source of oxygen with minimal assistance from Earth.
Working from thecompany's "Mars room," which plays host to a test chambercapable of emulating the inhospitable conditions prevailing on the Red Planet, chief scientist Eugene Boland is exploring the potentialof using ecosystem-building pioneer organisms such as bacteria oralgae as oxygen factories. The organisms would use Mars' ample supplyof regolith as fuel, andmay even serve a dual purpose in removing nitrogen from the Martiansoil.
Such research is avital aspect to any serious attempt to create an outpost on Mars. Anycolony established on the Red Planet would be isolated from thehomeworld by roughly 140 million miles (225.3 million km), with theaverage time between re-supply missions expected to be around 500days. Furthermore cargo mass has to be factored into the equation,and NASA would be keen to free up as much space as possible by doingaway with the need to transport oxygen and other gasses.
"This is a possibleway to support a human mission to Mars, producing oxygen withouthaving to send heavy gas canisters," states Boland. "Let’s sendmicrobes and let them do the heavy-lifting for us."
For the first test,Boland and his team expect to see their research touch down on the Red Planet in a rover carrying an experimental test bed housingextremophile organisms such as cyanobacteria. Thecontainer would be drilled into the Martian surface, capturing asample of alien soil in the process. As the specimens proceed tointeract with the soil, the capsule will analyze the sealedenvironment for signs of oxygen or other metabolic products,transmitting its findings back to Earth via a Mars-orbitingsatellite.
If subsequentexperiments are met with success, we may one day see biodomes filledwith the results of Boland's research mottling the surface of Mars,providing the nourishing oxygen necessary for humanity to make thosehistoric first steps on Martian soil.