NASA Acting Chief Administrator Robert Lightfoot, Jr. spoke to Futurism earlier this week hinting at some extraordinary developments that may be currently underway “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.”
Lightfoot explains that getting to Mars will take a developmental approach such as the one that built the International Space Station, in order to foster habitability for humans over time. The International Space Station for example is constantly undergoing new experiments, and adding new modules in the effort to make low earth orbit more habitable for astronauts. So far, the longest stay on the ISS is one year completed by American astronaut Scott Kelly.
Building a civilization on Mars not only consist of getting to the red planet, but also living on it. “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,” and this is precisely where developments like the new Mars Rover come into play.
The new rover for the 2020 mission will conduct experiments to attempt the generation of breathable oxygen from Mars’ atmosphere – this could potentially be an early fail safe for Mars astronauts. “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,” says Lightfoot.
Tests will be conducted using MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In situ resource utilization Experiment) which has been installed on rover. If it can successfully produce small amounts of oxygen at the surface, the next step is to place a similar device 100 times larger on Mars to produce breathable oxygen for arriving travellers.
The atmosphere on Mars consists of 95.32 percent carbon dioxide, 2.7 percent nitrogen, 1.6 percent argon, and about 0.13 oxygen along with other traces of specific elements. Earth’s atmosphere in comparison contains 78 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen.
While it sounds far fetched to create oxygen from a planet’s atmosphere, but there have actually been plans to do this for sometime including an idea that would bring microbial life to Mars to help with oxygen production.