According to recent research, future astronauts who land on Mars may be able to harness the planet’s natural resources to create rocket fuel that will let them return to Earth. Scientists published their findings in the journal Nature Communications and provided some ideas that might save billions of dollars on the trip to return our astronauts home.
As things currently stand, NASA intends to leave Mars using rocket engines powered by both methane and liquid oxygen. Because none of these occur naturally on Mars, 30 tonnes of methane and liquid oxygen would be required to carry from Earth to Mars for the return voyage. According to NASA, this stage of the procedure might cost up to $8 billion.
NASA has investigated the possibility of lowering this cost by harnessing chemical processes in the Martian atmosphere to make liquid oxygen from carbon dioxide, but methane would still be required to transfer from Earth to Mars.
Carbon dioxide, sunshine, and frozen water are all resources found on Mars that would be used in the bioproduction process. It would also entail bringing two bacteria to Mars. The first would be cyanobacteria, which would consume CO2 from the Martian atmosphere and convert it into sugars using sunlight. The sugars would be converted into a Mars-specific propellant by a modified E. coli that would be supplied from Earth. The Martian propellant, known as 2,3-butanediol, is now in existence, can be produced by E. coli, and is used to manufacture polymers for the creation of rubber on Earth.
These aforementioned experts have presented an alternate technique that would not only allow astronauts to generate methane and liquid oxygen from Martian resources but would also provide them with additional oxygen.
Instead of tonnes of methane and liquid oxygen, astronauts would travel to Mars with two bacteria. The first cyanobacteria would utilize sunlight to produce sugars via photosynthesis after being supplied with carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere and water from the Martian ice.
The second step would be for a genetically engineered E. coli bacteria to ferment those sugars into a rocket fuel known as 2,3-butanediol, which is now utilized to aid in the production of rubber on Earth. Although 2,3-butanediol is a weaker rocket fuel than methane, Mars’ gravity is just one-third that of Earth, making this solution a viable take-off alternative.
According to author Pamela Peralta-Yahya, “lift-off on Mars requires a lot less energy, which provided us the opportunity to investigate various chemicals that aren’t suited for a rocket launch on Earth. We began to think about how we could use the planet’s reduced gravity and lack of oxygen to develop solutions that would not be applicable for Earth launches.
Enzymes that could digest the cyanobacteria and liberate their sugars would also need to be delivered from Earth, and industrial separation techniques would need to be used to recover the 2,3-butanediol from the E. coli fermentation broth.
A projected rocket fuel factory on Mars would be developed, using 32% less energy than the previous method of importing methane from Earth and producing 44 tonnes of extra oxygen to support human troops. It would, however, be three times as heavy.
Further refinements, according to the researchers, might enhance microbial output to consume 59 percent less electricity and weigh 13 percent less while still producing 20 tonnes of extra oxygen.
Given the particular benefits that the biological process affords, such as surplus oxygen production for colony growth, we should begin thinking about how to design bacteria for safe usage on Mars. Peralta-Yahya said.