A red nation on a red planet? This communist country’s latest venture could be the key to human activity on Mars

A robotic space chemist will be able to create oxygen on Mars using materials from the planet's surface, say the Chinese researchers behind the project.

The refrigerator-sized machine, equipped with artificial intelligence and a robotic arm, broke down material from five meteorites and analyzed it to identify the chemical formula that makes up the substance that can release oxygen from water. The researchers said that it would take man 2000 years to find this formula.

What is artificial intelligence (AI)?

“Supplying oxygen for any human activity on Mars must be a top priority, as rocket fuel and life support systems consume significant amounts of oxygen that cannot be replenished from the Martian atmosphere.” researchers wrote. “Here we demonstrate a robotic AI chemist for automated synthesis and intelligent optimization of catalysts for the oxygen evolution reaction of Martian meteorites.”

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Creating oxygen from Martian materials and ice would eliminate the need for astronauts to bring oxygen-creating supplies to the planet from Earth. In addition, a robotic chemist can eliminate the need for humans to control processes.

“We have developed a robotic artificial intelligence system that has a chemical brain,” said Jun Jian, a scientist at Hefei University of Science and Technology of China who led the research. “We think our vehicle can use the compounds in the Martian ores without human guidance.”

This was not the first experiment How to create oxygen on Mars.

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NASA's Perseverance rover on the surface of Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

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NASA's Perseverance rover has carried an experimental device, nicknamed MOXIE, that has successfully produced oxygen at 16 different times from the Martian atmosphere since 2021. According to the agency. MOXIE produced over 120 grams of oxygen, enough to keep a small dog alive for 10 hours.

“There is zero barrier to scaling this up,” Michael Hecht, head of MOXIE, told Nature, adding that “you can produce two to three kilograms per hour.”

Each astronaut on the International Space Station needs about 840 grams of oxygen per day to survive. According to NASA.

A Chinese rover on the surface of Mars

China's Mars rover, Jurong, is seen near its landing pad during its mission to the planet in 2021. (via CNSA AP)

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Meanwhile, Jiang said his robot can create more than just oxygen.

“This robot can make different chemicals,” he said, noting that it could create a method for producing plant fertilizer.

“Maybe lunar soil is another direction,” Jiang added.