NASA is planning for a manned mission to Mars in 2030. However, to keep the payload as light as possible, it is researching various methods to manufacture the goods on Mars rather than carrying them from Earth.
In order to implement its plans, NASA has decided to fund two Space Technology Research Institute’s (STRI) for research to come up with a way so that the crew is able to sustain themselves on Mars with products which they can create there itself.
The institutes will gather researchers from different disciplines to help them in developing independent and self sustaining mission capabilities.
The space agency has also promised $15 million to each STRI to help them in generating new technologies to make goods and materials, which will directly help in space explorations.
Institutes Coordinating With NASA
The two STRI’s selected by NASA include the Center for the Utilization of Biological Engineering Space (CUBES), which is intended to focus on producing food, fuel and pharmaceuticals for astronauts on the mission.
The other STRI is the Institute for Ultra-Strong Composites by Computational Design, which is concerned with developing specialized building materials that can be used to create structures on the surface of Mars.
Moreover, NASA joined hands with Sudipta Seal, a professor at the University of Central Florida to study Martian soil from which useful metals can be extracted, that can then be utilized to create human habitats using a 3D printer.
“It’s essentially using additive-manufacturing techniques to make constructible blocks. UCF is collaborating with NASA to understand the science behind it,” stated Seal regarding the research.
How Can Metals Be Extracted From Soil?
Per the reports, the process involves melting the soil by heating it around 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
After heating the soil, the oppositely charged electrodes present on both the sides of the soil detach the metal from the oxygen.
The oxygen is an essential component for both breathing and as the oxidizer for the propellant needed by the mission to return to Earth.
Main Objective Behind This Research
Other space agencies like SpaceX and Mars One have also pointed out the need for research of this sort. It is essential for a manned mission to Mars that the payload be as light as possible. To ensure that the payload is not too heavy, scientists would have to first find a way to make use of whatever little resources the planet hold.
If the sufficient quantities of metal can be extracted from the soil, then it would likely lead to a much lighter payload when the mission finally takes off.