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NASA Develop Microorganisms That Eat and Recycle Waste on Mars

May 04, 2016 11:43 AM EDT
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NASA announced the 13 new space technology projects which will receive funding from the agency. One of the futuristic concepts is the reprogrammable microorganism which can eat and recycle metallic wastes on Mars.

In a press release, NASA said "Among the selected are: a concept for reprogramming microorganisms that could use the Martian environment to recycle and print electronics; a two-dimensional spacecraft with ultra-thin subsystems that may wrap around space debris to enable de-orbiting; and a method of computational imaging that leverages extrasolar intensity fluctuations to detect "echoes" from planets and other structures orbiting a distant star."

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) awards phase 1 funds amounting to $100,000 for nine months to support the initial stages of each concept. Once proven successful, an additional $500,000 funds will be awarded to the developers for another two-year period of development.

Projects involving technologies geared towards Mars is significant to NASA as they are mounting a large-scale mission to Mars.

According to Popular Science, malfunctioning gadgets can add unwanted weight to the exploration team, that's where the dirt-eating microorganism comes into play. They can recycle broken devices and excrete metals to be used on Mars again. It sorts of develop a sustainable high-tech environment in space. "Scientists at the Ames Research Center in California are engineering that could break down metallic parts of electronics and then create new ones."

The microorganism will be designed to break down waste metals and turn them into recyclable materials. Then NASA explained, the "reprinting of gadgets" using the recycled bio-ink is referred to as the process of urban biomining. "Spent electronics will be used as feedstock to make fresh electronic components, a process we will accomplish with so-called 'urban biomining' using synthetically enhanced microbes to bind metals with elemental specificity."

Both the repurposing and the printing of metallic wastes are being studied and developed with the journey to Mars in mind. NASA would also like to further enhance the microorganisms so that they will be able to digest and recycle other materials such as silicone.

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