Edinburgh scientists take humanity a step closer to establishing colonies on the Moon and Mars – Scotsman comment

When Neil Armstrong took those first famous steps on the surface of the Moon, it was one of the most significant moments in all of human history.

Astronaut Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin walks near the lunar module during the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969 (Picture: Neil Armstrong/Nasa/AP)
Astronaut Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin walks near the lunar module during the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969 (Picture: Neil Armstrong/Nasa/AP)

But, after an initial burst of excitement over the so-called Space Age, we seemed to become rather bored of the repeated missions to “boldly go” where we had not been before.

However, in recent years, technological developments have allowed us to begin serious preparations to send humans not only back to the Moon but to Mars.

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Astronauts to test asteroid mining kits devised by Edinburgh University scientis...

Now Edinburgh University researchers have developed matchbox-sized “biomining reactors” capable of extracting bacteria from rocks on Mar and the Moon that could be used help make soil to grow crops for lunar and Martian colonists. The devices could also extract metals such as iron and magnesium, which would be crucial for survival in space.

Professor Charles Cockell spoke of how space biomining “could potentially support a self-sustaining human presence in space. For example, our results suggest that the construction of robotic and human-tended mines in the Oceanus Procellarum region of the Moon, which has rocks with enriched concentrations of rare earth elements, could be one fruitful direction of human scientific and economic development beyond Earth”.

If we can successfully navigate the crises of this world – like Covid, climate change and threats to democracy from despotic regimes – and maintain the right conditions for science to flourish – freedom and international co-operation – then we might just enter a new great Age of Discovery with all the opportunities such an exciting time would bring.

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