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NASA to make oxygen from Mars atmosphere for survival

NASA has a new plan to overcome one of the biggest hurdles with colonizing Mars.

The agency plans to use the red planet’s own atmosphere to create oxygen when it lands a rover for the Mars 2020 mission, says Robert Lightfoot, acting NASA chief administrator.

The plan will bring microbial life to Mars and harvest the oxygen produced by the organisms to make it available for breathing.

NASA has a new plan to overcome one of the biggest hurdles with colonizing Mars. The agency plans to use the red planet’s own atmosphere to create oxygen when it lands for the Mars 2020 mission, says Robert Lightfoot, acting NASA chief administrator

HOW IT WORKS 

NASA plans to use the red planet’s own atmosphere to create oxygen when it lands for the Mars 2020 mission.

NASA first came up with the plan in 2014 when it first unveiled the Mars 2020 Rover. 

The process entails transporting microbial life – such as bacteria or algae – from Earth to Mars.

The organisms would then use Martian soil as fuel to pump out oxygen, which could then be harvested and used for breathing.

Additionally, it could also be used to make rocket fuel foe return flights back to Earth. 

Lab experiments have already shown it’s possible.  

‘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,’ Lightfoot told Futurism.

NASA first came up with the plan in 2014 when it first unveiled the Mars 2020 Rover.

The process entails transporting microbial life – such as bacteria or algae – from Earth to Mars.

The organisms would then use Martian soil as fuel to pump out oxygen, which could then be harvested and used for breathing.

Additionally, it could also be used to make rocket fuel foe return flights back to Earth. 

Lab experiments have already shown it’s possible.  

The plan serves as an early alternative to terraforming Mars, which could take thousands of years if even possible at all. 

The process entails transporting microbial life - such as bacteria or algae - from Earth to Mars. The organisms would then use Martian soil as fuel to pump out oxygen, which could then be harvested and used for breathing and even rocket fuel for return flights to Earth

The process entails transporting microbial life – such as bacteria or algae – from Earth to Mars. The organisms would then use Martian soil as fuel to pump out oxygen, which could then be harvested and used for breathing and even rocket fuel for return flights to Earth

The atmosphere on Mars is much thinner than Earth’s and is made up of only 0.13 percent oxygen.

Earth’s, however, is made up of 21 percent oxygen and 78 percent nitrogen.

The remainder is 95.32 percent carbon dioxide, 2.7 percent nitrogen, 1.6 percent argon, and trace amounts of other elements.

While getting to Mars has always seemed like a difficult feat, these atmospheric hurdles make staying there the true challenge .

NASA and SpaceX don’t just want to reach Mars for a symbolic victory, but rather they want to be able to remain there to research the red planet and use it as a jump-off point for further space exploration – and even as a way to learn more about humans themselves.

‘We try and make sure that, when we do a science mission or a human spaceflight mission, that we have a cross between the science and the human exploration,’ Lightfoot said. 

The atmosphere on Mars is much thinner than Earth's and is made up of only 0.13 percent oxygen. While getting to Mars has always seemed like a difficult feat, these atmospheric hurdles make staying there the true challenge

The atmosphere on Mars is much thinner than Earth’s and is made up of only 0.13 percent oxygen. While getting to Mars has always seemed like a difficult feat, these atmospheric hurdles make staying there the true challenge

He went on to emphasize that this will only be achieved through incremental steps and small victories, meaning we have to inch out into space to learn more.

Currently, we’ve done so with the moon and International Space Station.  

‘When you look at our plans today [for getting to Mars], we use the International Space Station as much as we can…for example, our life support systems, we test them up there,’ he said.

Last week, NASA announced it will use a range of techniques including high-tech X-rays to hunt for microbial life during it 2020 mission to Mars.

These pioneering techniques will help experts find ‘biosignatures’ of life – allowing them to make high-resolution maps of postage stamp-sized areas on the red planet.

These instruments have previously been used to hunt out the earliest signs of life on Earth – such as deep underground, in hydrothermal vents and on ocean-floor ridges.  

These pioneering techniques will allow experts to find 'biosignatures' of life - allowing them to make high-resolution maps of postage stamp-sized areas on the red planet. Pictured is an artist's impression of the Mars 2020 rover 

These pioneering techniques will allow experts to find ‘biosignatures’ of life – allowing them to make high-resolution maps of postage stamp-sized areas on the red planet. Pictured is an artist’s impression of the Mars 2020 rover 

MARS 2020 MISSION

The Mars 2020 rover will have a drill that can collect core samples of the most promising rocks and soils

New methods for searching for the most ancient evidence of life on Earth have led to this leap forward in capabilities for biosignature detection.

Experts will use X-ray fluorescence and Raman spectropscopy – which records vibrations in molecules –  to map the elements, minerals and organic compounds in rocks.

When these methods have been applied on Earth they have enabled scientists to lower limits of detection or to better understand formerly ambiguous observations.

The mission is not only seeking signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past, but also searching for signs of past microbial life itself. 

New methods for searching for the most ancient evidence of life on Earth have led to this leap forward in capabilities for biosignature detection.

Experts will use X-ray fluorescence and Raman spectropscopy – which records vibrations in molecules – to map the elements, minerals and organic compounds in rocks.

‘Past missions have measured the average chemistry over these cm² areas, whereas Mars 2020 will make high resolution chemical maps over a similar area to assess how chemistry changes with shapes or ‘textures’ observed in the rocks’, Dr Ken Williford the mission’s Deputy Project Scientist told MailOnline.

‘This approach comes from the methods used to study ancient life on Earth, where we look for interesting chemical features associated with biologically suggestive shapes (e.g. wrinkly layers, filaments, spheres, etc.) observed in ancient rocks’, he said.

When these methods have been applied on Earth they have enabled scientists to lower limits of detection or to better understand formerly ambiguous observations.

‘Our objective is to collect a diverse set of samples from our landing site with the best potential to preserve records of the evolution of Mars – including the presence of life if it was there’, said Dr Williford, the mission’s Deputy Project Scientist, while speaking at the Goldschmidt conference today in Paris.

‘We’ll use our on board instruments to provide the critical field context that future scientists would need to understand the measurements made back on Earth’, he said.

The automated robot rover will scan the surface of the chosen landing site before taking detailed pictures and collecting rocky samples to bring back to Earth. 

In February, NASA announced the three potential landing sites for their 2020 Mars Rover, pictured, including an ancient lake, a volcano or silica rock deposits

The rover will have a drill that can collect core samples of the most promising rocks and soils. 

‘Mars 2020 takes the next natural step in its direct search for evidence of ancient microbial life, focusing measurements to the microbial scale and producing high-resolution maps over similarly postage stamp-sized analytical areas’, said Dr Williford.

The American space agency picked the three potential drilling sites during a workshop with planetary scientists in California on February 10.

The site with the most votes – the Jezero crater – was once home to an ancient Martian lake.

Scientists hope that the extraterrestrial delta, which has once connected to a river but has now dried up, could host the fossilized remains of microbial life.

Nasa's first choice, the Jezero crater, pictured, was once home to an ancient Martian lake which could host the fossilised remains of microbial life

Nasa’s first choice, the Jezero crater, pictured, was once home to an ancient Martian lake which could host the fossilised remains of microbial life

‘You’ve got a large river bringing water and sediment into a very large lake, comparable to Lake Tahoe,’ said Timothy Goudge, a planetary scientist at the University of Texas at Austin, to Nature.

Northeast Syrtis, which received the second highest number of votes, once had hot water running underneath its crust.

The rocky region was discovered to be a volcano when the robotic spacecraft Mars Global Surveyor stumbled across it in 1996.

The American space agency's second potential landing spot, Northeast Syrtis, is the site of a rocky volcano which once had hot water running underneath its crust

The American space agency’s second potential landing spot, Northeast Syrtis, is the site of a rocky volcano which once had hot water running underneath its crust

The last potential excavation site, Columbia Hills, was previously explored by the Martian rover Spirit, which found silica rocks that could be linked to alien life

The last potential excavation site, Columbia Hills, was previously explored by the Martian rover Spirit, which found silica rocks that could be linked to alien life

The last potential excavation site, Columbia Hills, is the most controversial choice.

NASA’s earlier Martian rover Spirit has previously found silica rocks on the site – which resemble hydrothermal mineral deposits on Earth.

But some scientists doubt whether the Mars 2020 rover will be able to assess whether the silica rocks are truly linked to alien life.

NASA will make their final decision a year before the mission’s launch date in July 2020.  

The rover will then spend two years drilling for rock and soil from the chosen landing site.

Mars 2020 Rover’s equipment

Mastcam-Z: An advanced camera system with panoramic and stereoscopic imaging capability with the ability to zoom. The instrument will also establish the minerals found in Mars’ surface, and help with rover operations.

SuperCam: An instrument that provides imaging, chemical composition analysis, and mineralogy. It will also be able to locate organic compounds in rocks, from a distance.

Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL): An X-ray fluorescence spectrometer with a built-in high resolution imager than can determine the fine scale elemental composition of Martian surface materials. PIXL will make it possible to make detailed detection and analysis of chemical elements than ever before.

Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC): A spectrometer that offers fine-scale imaging and uses an ultraviolet (UV) laser to determine detect minerals and compounds.

The Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE): An exploration technology that will produce oxygen from carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere.

Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyser (MEDA): A set of sensors that provide measurements of temperature, wind speed and direction, pressure, relative humidity and dust size and shape.

The Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Exploration (RIMFAX): A ground-penetrating radar that provides centimetre-scale resolution of the geologic structure of the subsurface.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk