A team of scientists has come up with a method that may potentially allow future manned missions to Mars to maintain habitats on the surface of the Red Planet.
According to ScienceAlert, the scientists sought to attain their goal via the use of cyanobacteria which, as lead author Dr Cyprien Verseux from the University of Bremen explained, “can use gases available in the Martian atmosphere, at a low total pressure, as their source of carbon and nitrogen”.
As the media outlet points out, while all species of cyanobacteria “produce oxygen as a photosynthetic by-product”, and while this bacteria can essentially make organic compounds and nutrients out of carbon dioxide and nitrogen that comprise the majority of the Martian atmosphere, the relatively low atmospheric pressure on the Red Planet (about 1 percent of that on Earth) poses a “significant setback”.
The researchers thus opted to construct a bioreactor called Atmos that uses materials that can be obtained on Mars, such as water and "a Martian regolith simulant", and which maintains atmospheric pressure about 10 percent that of Earth.
During the course of their experiment, the team established that the species of cyanobacteria they selected grew "vigorously" both in reactor chambers that used a culture medium and in chambers that used simulated Martian regolith.
Furthermore, the scientists discovered that nutrients obtained from cyanobacteria can then be used to feed other cultures, “which can then be used for other purposes, such as producing medications”, the media outlet adds.
"Our bioreactor, Atmos, is not the cultivation system we would use on Mars: it is meant to test, on Earth, the conditions we would provide there," Verseux pointed out. "But our results will help guide the design of a Martian cultivation system... We want to go from this proof-of-concept to a system that can be used on Mars efficiently."