In a new article, published in the journal Nature Communications, it is suggested that bacteria can extract useful materials from rocks on Mars and the Moon and open the way for new technologies that will help humans explore new worlds and establish settlements there.
The study is based on tests carried out by astronauts on the International Space Station, which received 18 matchbox-sized mine devices - called bioprocessing reactors - sent by researchers from the University of Edinburgh aboard a SpaceX rocket launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida, USA, in July 2019.
Small pieces of basalt, a rock commonly found on Earth's natural satellite and Mars, were loaded into each device and immersed in a bacterial solution for three weeks under zero gravity.
The team's findings indicate that bacteria can improve the extraction of rare earth elements from basalt in lunar and Martian landscapes by about 400%.
“Our experiments confirm the scientific and technical feasibility of biologically enhanced mining of elementary resources in the solar system,” said Charles Cockell, lead author of the article. “While it is not economically feasible to mine these elements in space and bring them to Earth, space bio-mining has the potential to support a self-sustaining human presence in space.”
According to Cockell, the experiment shows that it is possible to build robotic and manned mines on the Moon in the Ocean of Storms region, where there are rocks with a high content of rare earths.
"This could become one of the fruitful areas of scientific and economic development of mankind beyond the Earth," - said the scientist.