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Two teams of researchers are hoping their tiny devices will mean big leaps for future Mars-bound humans, allowing them to carry powerful computers and generate life support materials from the planet’s atmosphere.
In one corner, NASA-funded scientists are tweaking microtechnology to produce compact systems that produce breathing oxygen or rocket propellant, vital components of any manned space mission.
“We’re looking at collecting the carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere and breaking it down for [crew needs],” said Batelle researcher Kriston Brooks, principal investigator of the study at Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNNL), where NASA has awarded a contract to develop the technology.
The goal, Brooks added, is to wrangle microtechnology into a usable system that would generate propellant for astronauts aboard a manned mission to Mars by 2030, a goal set by NASA’s space vision of renewing human space exploration outside Earth orbit.
“It’s all about helping to reduce the cost of missions for robotic sample returns and even human space missions,” said NASA’s Tom Simon, a systems engineer for in-situ resource utilization at Johnson Space Center. “We’re hoping that the work will be a great kick-start for using resources on Mars to enable us to meet our budget goals and constraints for exploration.”