Colonising mars using bacteria
The thesis suggests that the bacteria sent to the red planet will mine iron.
The cost of each space launch increases with increase in weight per kilo. A PhD student from the Delft University of Technology has proposed a thesis for sending bacteria to Mars to help colonise it.
The thesis suggests that the bacteria sent to the red planet will mine iron. This iron can then be used to construct a base. All we need to send is a rover, a bioreactor, and a 3-D printer. The reactor will be a kind of shovel on wheels to bring regolith (iron-rich Martian soil ) to the bioreactor.
Bioreactors are small devices that facilitate a biologically active environment. It will be filled with Shewanella oneidensis bacteria species. They are known for surviving in environments without oxygen and have the ability to reduce metal ions. They can also withstand dangerous radiation that is present in space.
Benjamin Lehner, the PhD student explains, "In its natural form, we can't use much of the iron in the Martian soil. But S. oneidensis has the ability to turn part of the soil into magnetite, a magnetic oxide of iron."
Once the iron is separated by the bacteria, it can be separated using magnets. The separated iron can then be fed to the 3D printer to manufacture screws, nuts, iron plates and other objects using a technique called Lithography-based Ceramic Manufacturing (LCM).
Benefits of bacteria:
We don't need to keep on sending bacteria as they are self-reproducing and will increase their numbers on the red planet. They are easy and cheap to transport and can be fed with micro-algae. These algae produce oxygen and nutrients by converting sunlight and co2. The organic waste produced by both the algae and the bioreactor can be used as compost.
How much iron can they produce?
Using the process mentioned above, a 1400 litre bioreactor and bacteria can produce about 350 kg of iron per year. In 3.3 years the iron produced will be more than the capacity of the capsule. So, by sending many of these modules we can produce a good amount of iron at the same time, the researcher said.
Increasing the population of these bacteria on the red planet might obstruct the search for life on Mars. But this can be solved by attaching an inflatable sealed chamber to one side of the capsule.
NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are interested in taking the idea forward. "So who knows, maybe this plan will become a reality someday," adds Lehner.