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Growing the microalgae solution to living on Mars

Mars

25 September 2019

Sustaining life on a journey to Mars, as well as on arrival, is one of the biggest challenges in mankind’s plan to populate the Red Planet. Researchers believe microalgae still holds the answer.

Muriel Cozier

Since the first manned landing on the moon, 50 years ago, horizons expanded with the hope of reaching Mars. But supporting life during the prolonged journey, as well as living on the planet, are hampering progress. At present traditional life support systems have several limitations including high logistic costs, sufficient supplies of food and oxygen and dealing with waste.  

A solution for these challenges is the use of microalgae. While the use of microalgae-based bioregenerative life support systems was proposed decades ago, it is only in recent years that effort has been devoted to this field and significant progress made.

A paper published in the Journal of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology considers the advances made in the area of microalgae-based life support and looks at the ongoing challenges and potential solutions.

A microalgae-based bioregenerative life support system involves an artificial ecosystem employing photosynthetic organisms, not only for oxygen generation but also as a source of nutrition and even waste management. However due to the immaturity and instability of the technology such systems have been rarely used. But with renewed interest in manned space exploration, attention to these life support systems is increasing. Indeed, researchers have gone as far as testing microalgae-based bioregenerative life support systems in space.

Ongoing challenges, the researchers say, include aspects of microalgae production capacity, health and safety issues, genetic stability of microalgae and waste remediation efficiency. These have to be fully addressed before the use of microalgae-based bioregenerative life support systems in spacecraft.

Despite the current shortcomings the potential for microalgae-based bioregenerative life support is fuelling research around the world.

DOI: 10.1002/jctb.6159

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