(ORDO NEWS) — The ESA-sponsored research aims to develop a method not only to detect dangerous superoxide soils on the Moon and Mars that could endanger astronauts, but also a way to turn them into oxygen farms for future missions.
Oxygen is essential for survival on the Moon and Mars, and superoxide layers are very dangerous. Scientists have figured out how to eliminate their danger and provide oxygen to future colonists.
One of the things we tend to take for granted is how weird our environment is on Earth. Our planet is dominated by water to such an extent that we not only consider its presence normal, but also consider it a relatively benign liquid that is chemically very safe.
In fact, water is one of the most reactive compounds in the universe and can be considered an almost universal solvent.
The only reason why it seems so harmless to us is that over the past five billion years it has managed to interact with everything on Earth, to dissolve or neutralize almost everything that it can.
As a result, scientists are still learning a lot about what an anhydrous environment actually is and what exotic (for us) substances can exist in it.
A prime example was provided by NASA’s Viking 1 and Viking 2 landers, which landed on Mars in 1976.
They analyzed soil samples on the Red Planet and found that the soils released carbon dioxide after they were sterilized at 160°C for three hours. Worse, when the samples were analyzed, no traces of organic molecules were found in them.
Although the reasons for this phenomenon have been discussed for almost half a century, the most common theory is that the observed activity was not due to the presence of life, but because the Martian soil contained highly reactive oxygen-containing abiotic chemicals such as superoxides, peroxides and perchlorates.
How to create an “oxygen farm”
Scientists from the National Technical University of Athens and the University of Patras are looking for a method to detect such reactive compounds.
Using soil samples from the Martian deserts of Mojave and Atacama, as well as irradiated perchlorates, they plan to develop a microfluidic device smaller than a paperback book that could detect superoxide layers so that astronauts can avoid potential hazards and eventually create oxygen farms.
The project, supported by the European Space Agency, will include the initial design of a large-scale reactor to periodically extract oxygen from the soil using solar energy. It is estimated that an area of 1.2 hectares would generate enough oxygen to keep one astronaut alive.
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