Experts are confident of being able to land on Mars from 2030 and hope the pioneering new technology will be available at that time.
The agency has been working with company Techshot Inc, from South Carolina, on the technology in a special ‘Mars room; laboratory, which replicates the conditions of the red planet on Earth.
So far during experiments, some minute organisms were capable of making oxygen out of Martian soil – which is called regolith.
These microscopic creatures were also found to have removed nitrogen from the soil.
Eugene Boland, chief scientist at Techshot, said: “This is a possible way to support a human mission to Mars, producing oxygen without having to send heavy gas canisters. Let’s send microbes and let them do the heavy-lifting for us.”
Researchers predict “biomes” – or huge tents – containing the organisms will be spread across the surface of Mars to produce and store oxygen to allow humans to breathe.
They now want to carry out the same tests as conducted in their laboratories on Mars itself.
It is anticipated organisms that created oxygen from the soil in the laboratory will be sent to the Red Planet in an unmanned probe with a surface operated “rover” – which would bury them on the surface of Mars in containers.
Sensors would then measure how much oxygen, if any, is made.
Researchers in the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Programme, are mindful of the risk of contaminating Mars with “alien” life from Earth and acknowledge they will have to ensure the containers are tightly sealed and unbreakable.
If all goes to plan they believe one day multiple biomes on the surface of Mars could make the planet habitable for humans.
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