1997-07-01

Solid Waste Processing - An Essential Technology for the Early Phases of Mars Exploration and Colonization 972272

Terraforming of Mars is the long-term goal of colonization of Mars. However, this process is likely to be a very slow process and conservative estimates involving a synergetic, technocentric approach suggest that it may take around 10,000 years before the planet can be parallel to that of Earth and where humans can live in open systems (Fogg, 1995). Hence, for the foreseeable future, any missions will require habitation within small confined habitats with high biomass to atmospheric mass ratios, thereby requiring that all wastes be recycled. Processing of the wastes will ensure predictability and reliability of the ecosystem and reduce resupply logistics.
Solid wastes, though smaller in volume and mass than the liquid wastes, contain more than 90% of the essential elements required by humans and plants. Two major elements that plants require (K and N) and a microelement (Boron) are not readily available or have not been detected on the surface of Mars and will need to supplied for crop production. These elements can be recovered from CELSS wastes by incineration, and thus they can be made available for crop production on Mars. If left unprocessed, CELSS wastes present a serious risk to human health. This paper describes the use of incineration technology to process solid wastes which ensures that the biogeochemical cycles of ecosystems are maintained, reliability of the closed life support system maintained and the establishment of the early processes necessary for the permanent presence of humans on Mars.

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