Algae cultivation on Mars could guarantee successful human missions

Cyanobacteria may be the ideal solution for the creation of life support systems dedicated to astronauts who venture on trips to Mars, points out a research led by Cyprien Verseux, French astrobiologist at the University of Bremen, Germany. The organisms, the study indicates, reproduce in an “excellent” way under the conditions of the Red Planet.

Advances in the area are fundamental, since the nine-month journey, required by available equipment, presents huge obstacles for future crews. The time required to send groceries, the costs involved and safety aspects related to transport make constant refills impossible. Therefore, resources must be generated and recycled. That’s where the “protagonists” come in.

Known mainly as algae found in lakes during the summer, cyanobacteria are among the oldest living organisms on the planet and adapt well to various extreme conditions. Although they can be harmful to the health of humans in high concentrations, their full potential comes into play on Mars.

For example, they grow by absorbing nitrogen and carbon from the air. In addition, through photosynthesis, they produce oxygen. Fueled by Martian rocks and atmosphere, they would reduce dependence on Earth teams, stresses Verseux.

However, before its application was suggested, it was necessary to “determine the ideal atmospheric conditions for the growth of cyanobacteria of the genus Anabaena sp“and” technical feasibility on Mars. “Atmos, developed by the university’s Center for Applied Space Technology and Microgravity, helped provide the environment in question.

Cyanobacteria found in lakes can assist missions to Mars.Cyanobacteria found in lakes can assist missions to Mars.Source: Reproduction

Sustainable missions

The atmosphere of Mars has a completely different composition from that found on Earth, as it has 95% carbon and only small amounts of nitrogen and argon, against 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen and a small amount of argon and carbon present in on here. By adjusting the equipment, trying to get as close as possible to what the Red Planet carries, the scientists noticed an expressive growth of cyanobacteria under both gas conditions (4% carbon; 96% nitrogen) and atmospheric pressure (100 hPa) .

The results, celebrates the team, exceeded expectations. “Firstly, because the pressure difference between the interior and exterior of the device would be only slight and, therefore, less stringent requirements would be placed on the construction. Secondly, because it would be possible to generate the necessary gas from the local atmosphere. with minimal processing “, emphasizes the group.

“We demonstrated that cyanobacteria can use gases available in the Martian atmosphere, at a low total pressure, as their source of carbon and nitrogen. Under these conditions, cyanobacteria maintained their ability to grow in water containing only dust similar to that of Mars and could still be used to feed other microbes. This could help make long-term missions sustainable, “add the researchers.

Life support systems are critical for astronauts.Life support systems are critical for astronauts.Source: Reproduction

Next steps

Although the analyzes have revealed a promising future, more studies are needed, details Verseux. In the coming months, he and his team plan to refine the design of the life support system to the point where they can improve their ability to grow cyanobacteria on Mars. Likewise, they want to improve their use, seeking to produce nutrients for biological organisms in subsequent modules.

“Our bioreactor is not the cultivation system that we would use on Mars. It serves to test, on Earth, the conditions that we would provide there. In any case, our results will help guide the design of a Martian cultivation system. For example, lower pressure indicates that we can develop a lighter and more easily transportable structure, as you will not have to endure large differences between the interior and the exterior “, concluded the expert.

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