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NASA’s New Competition To Convert CO2 To Oxygen

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    By National Aeronautics and Space Administration [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s no secret that NASA is getting more and more ambitious when it comes to deep space exploration. We have had rovers that explore the surface of the Red Planet. However, NASA wants to send up manned Mars missions in the future. We can’t survive without oxygen on the Red Planet, so NASA’s new competition the CO2 Conversion Challenge, will reward the team that comes up with a way to turn CO2 to oxygen. Carbon dioxide is quite dominant on the Red Planet, so turning it into something astronauts can use will increase the chances of us visiting the Red Planet soon.

“Enabling sustained human life on another planet will require a great deal of resources and we cannot possibly bring everything we will need,” Monsi Roman, Centennial Challenges program manager said in a press release. “If we can transform an existing and plentiful resource like carbon dioxide into a variety of useful products, the space — and terrestrial — applications are endless.”

Converting CO2 to oxygen by focusing on on glucose

NASA’s new competition to turn CO2 to oxygen will have a focus on glucose development, which consists of hydrogen, carbon and oxygen. Since glucose is produced by plants on Earth, it is a plentiful and inexpensive material that researchers can use to create oxygen. It’s still a challenge, however. Conditions on Mars are harsh, so using this approach is impossible for scientists.  Resources like water, energy and crew members are limited when it comes to the creation of oxygen on the Red Planet.

“Energy rich sugars are preferred microbial energy sources composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atom,” states a press release disseminated on Aug. 30. “They could be used as the feedstock for systems that can efficiently produce a variety of items. Glucose is the target sugar product in this challenge because it is the easiest to metabolize, which will optimize conversion efficiency.”

The winning design would actually have multiple purposes. Carbon dioxide emissions are the main culprit behind global warming and climate change. Thus, the new invention could even reverse the effects of global warming.

Two phases to NASA’s new competition

There will be two phases to the competition. The first is submission, and phase two includes construction and demonstration. To participate, teams will need to submit a design and a description that shows their approach to converting carbon to glucose. After the first phase, the judges in NASA’s new competition will select five teams, with each receiving $50,000. The second phase is also called the Demonstration Challenge, and it includes building and demonstrating their design. The best design will receive $750,000.

Those who want to participate can register via the NASA CO2 Conversion Challenge website. The space agency will continue receiving registrations until Feb. 28, 2019.

In April 2017, the space agency announced plans which include the first manned mission to Mars, a five-phase plan which is the most detailed plan so far. The first phase takes place from 2018 to 2025, and it includes the testing of six SLS rockets, while the first manned mission is expected to be sent to Mars by the 2030s.

Do you think you have what it takes to convert CO2 to oxygen? Hopefully NASA’s new competition solves many additional problems.

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