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article imageNASA's $1 million challenge: Turn CO2 into glucose on Mars

By Karen Graham     Sep 6, 2018 in Technology
If you know your way around a chemistry lab, you may want to check out the latest challenge from NASA. The space agency is asking the public to figure out a way to turn carbon dioxide into glucose. Ah, there is one thing - it needs to happen on Mars.
NASA is asking people throughout the United States to come up with a new and efficient way to convert carbon dioxide into glucose, a simple sugar. And the big prize is a cool $1.0 million, according to a press release the other day.
If humanity is to ever create a settlement on the Red Planet, they will need to use local resources, and carbon dioxide is very abundant on Mars. The atmosphere on Mars is very thin, with carbon dioxide making up 95.3 percent of it, while oxygen makes up a scant 0.13 percent of the atmosphere.
“Enabling sustained human life on another planet will require a great deal of resources and we cannot possibly bring everything we will need. We have to get creative,” said Monsi Roman, program manager of NASA’s Centennial Challenges program. “If we can transform an existing and plentiful resource like carbon dioxide into a variety of useful products, space – and terrestrial – applications are endless.”
Elon Musk s vision of a Mars Colony
Elon Musk's vision of a Mars Colony
"The competition is just one part of the goals the space agency has for not only Mars but Earth. We're asking the public to help us convert carbon dioxide into sugar and the end game is glucose," Roman told ABC News. "That conversion happens naturally in photosynthesis on Earth all the time. It’s an issue on Mars. There’s a lot of carbon dioxide, if we have hydrogen, we can basically make 'designer farms.'"
To that end, NASA is looking for ways to convert carbon dioxide into useful compounds. Such technologies will allow us to manufacture products using local, indigenous resources on Mars, and can also be implemented on Earth by using both waste and atmospheric carbon dioxide as a resource.
The Mars Science City is just one of many designs readying mankind for its first missions missions t...
The Mars Science City is just one of many designs readying mankind for its first missions missions to the Red Planet.
Dubai Media Office
Just remember, carbon and oxygen are the molecular building blocks of sugars. So developing efficient systems that can produce glucose from carbon dioxide will help advance the emerging field of biomanufacturing technology on Earth and Mars. So this is where the challenge comes into focus.
The new competition consists of two phases. During Phase 1, applicants submit a description of their CO2-to-glucose conversion system that includes details of the physical-chemical approaches to convert carbon dioxide into glucose. NASA will award up to five teams $50,000 each, to be announced in April 2019. For Phase 1, interested parties must register by Jan. 24, 2019 and submit their proposals by Feb. 28, 2019, reports
Artist s rendition of multiple Kilopower reactors at a Mars base.
Artist's rendition of multiple Kilopower reactors at a Mars base.
Phase 2 is the system construction and demonstration stage and is contingent on promising submissions in Phase 1 that offer a viable approach to achieving the challenge goals. Phase 2 will carry a prize purse of up to $750,000, for a total challenge prize purse of $1 million.
In April 2019, the five finalists from the Phase 1 group will be announced by NASA. The challenge is open to citizens and permanent residents of the United States; foreign nationals can compete if they're part of a U.S.-based team. To register or learn more, go to the CO2 Conversion Challenge website.
The Centennial Challenges program, part of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, bridges the innovation gap between NASA and the nation by stimulating research and technology solutions inside and outside of the traditional aerospace community.
More about NASA, $1 million challenge, CO2 into sugar, Settlers, Mars
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