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Future Mars Explorers Could be helped with the Microbes

According to a recent study, future Mars colonists may create rocket fuel on the Red Planet using air, water, and sunshine. The device might be used to power the astronauts’ return to Earth missions. Scientists said that making rocket fuel on instead of bringing it from Earth may save billions of dollars while also producing plenty of oxygen to allow humans exploring to breathe. NASA is currently considering rocket engines powered by methane and liquid oxygen for departures from Mars.

However, neither of these fuels are found on, so they would have to be brought there from Earth to propel a spaceship into orbit. According to NASA, it would cost around $8 billion to transport the 30 or so tonnes of methane and liquid oxygen needed to help a human crew launch from Mars. Chemical processes to make liquid oxygen from carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere was one technique NASA considered to lower this expense. However, transferring methane from Earth to  is still required.

Researchers have now proposed a biologically inspired solution for producing both methane and liquid oxygen from Martian resources. Not only that, but it has the potential to produce enough oxygen to sustain human life. Two bacteria would be sent to Mars as part of the new technique. The first would be cyanobacteria, which would use photosynthesis to make carbohydrates after being fed carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere and water from the Martian ice.

The second would be genetically modified E. coli bacteria that would ferment those sugars into 2,3-butanediol. This rocket fuel is now employed on Earth to aid in the production of rubber. Even though 2,3-butanediol is a less powerful rocket fuel than methane, the gravity on is only one-third that of Earth. This technique also necessitates the shipment of enzymes to Mars to break down the cyanobacteria and liberate their sugars.

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