NASA Will Attempt to Create Oxygen From the Atmosphere on Mars

Saturday, 19 August 2017 - 4:40PM
Space
NASA
Mars
Saturday, 19 August 2017 - 4:40PM
NASA Will Attempt to Create Oxygen From the Atmosphere on Mars
NASA
There are tons of reasons why we can't live on Mars just yet, even ignoring the unfinished challenge of actually moving some people over there. One bigger challenge is how to safely breathe in the thin Martian atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide.

Fortunately, NASA is actually working on that one. While their first attempt is still a few years away, NASA's Acting Chief Administrator Robert Lightfoot Jr. recently spoke about an upcoming experiment that would involve generating breathable amounts of oxygen on the Red Planet, one small step toward eventual colonization and terraforming much later down the line. Should technology permit, of course.

Speaking to Futurism, Lightfoot explained that their upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission contains some tools that should (hopefully) filter Martian air into breathable oxygen:

Opening quote
"The next lander that is going to Mars, Mars 2020, has an experiment where we are going to try and actually generate oxygen out of the atmosphere on Mars, clearly that's for human capability down the road."
Closing quote


The plan is to bring send microbial algae or bacteria inside the rover, which would feed off the Martian soil and produce oxygen as byproduct. Even if it's successful, this first bacterial convoy wouldn't produce enough oxygen for people to breath, but this is just an early stage to make sure it's possible. Again, it's one small step, you know the rest.

Because producing enough oxygen to sustain human life is a daunting task. At this moment, the atmosphere on Mars is composed of about 0.13 percent oxygen, surrounded by 95 percent carbon dioxide and smaller amount of nitrogen and argon - in comparison, Earth's atmosphere is made of 78 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen, with trace amounts of other elements. 

In a contained environment in the near future, the soil and microbes might be enough to sustain a small colony, as well as produce enough oxygen for the colonists to easily make return trips. As its name implies, the Mars 2020 rover launches in three years, and looks like a shinier version of the Curiosity rover that launched back in 2011, which is still there now.



And who knows? By the time NASA has more microbes on the Martian surface, the first humans on Mars might see far less trouble than anybody in The Martian. And there will probably be some much easier ways to grow Martian potatoes.

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