The planet of Mars is known to contain 96% CO2 in its atmosphere making breathing difficult for humans used to tiny fractions of CO2 on Earth. Percentages of CO2 more than a quarter tend to kill humans; however the Red planet’s high carbon dioxide levels are believed to be a blessing in disguise according to scientists from the Universities of Lisbon and Porto and Ѐcole Polytechnique in Paris.
According to researchers converting the high levels of carbon dioxide into oxygen will help in the survival of humans on Mars as it would mean cutting down on the cost of going to Mars as visitors wouldn’t need to carry oxygen from Earth with them.
“Sending a manned mission to Mars is one of the next major steps in our exploration of space. Creating a breathable environment, however, is a substantial challenge,” said study lead author Dr. Vasco Guerra, from the University of Lisbon in Portugal.
The oxygen required can be formed with the help of plasma technology. Plasma is considered to be the fourth state of matter; when high energy such as electrical discharge is supplied to a gaseous molecule it is ionized and goes into an energy rich (unstable) state called the plasma state. Dr. Guerra, the lead author had been using this phenomenon to breakdown CO2 on Earth with the hope of understanding climate changes as well as for the production of solar fuels.
After attending a talk on NASA’s Mars goals, he realized the application of this technology on interplanetary issues. They found out that carbon dioxide can be converted to carbon monoxide (CO) and oxygen (O2) through a process called decomposition aided by the cooler temperature of Mars. The high percentages of carbon dioxide as well as cool temperature (avg. 210Kelvin) favor more vibration between the molecules at slow speeds giving more time for separation of molecules thus increasing the efficiency of the process.
Mars hence has splendid conditions necessary for the in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) by plasma. Not only does this help provide a consistently good supply of oxygen for humans, the carbon monoxide (CO) formed can also be used as a propellant mixture in rocket vehicles; further reducing the cargo needed to be brought from Earth in turn reducing the costs.
Dr. Guerra has said that, “This ISRU approach could help significantly simplify the logistics of a mission to Mars. It would allow for increased self-sufficiency, reduce the risks to the crew, and reduce costs by requiring fewer vehicles to carry out the mission.” The research is still just an idea and needs to be proved on Mars.
Article by Srividya.