We are making good progress towards going to the Moon and Mars.
We are building new spacecraft, bringing astronauts to the International Space Station for extended stays and sending robots to Mars. To build a sustainable presence on these planetary bodies however, we also need local resources. Resources that may or may not be readily available on the Moon and Mars.
An important example of such resources are metals also referred to as rare Earth elements. These are often used in the production of electronics such as computer screens, metal alloys and magnet production - vital materials for building a lunar or Martian base.
Taking these building blocks with us on a spacecraft is not an option. It would be too heavy, and too expensive to take these rare elements with us from the already much-depleted Earth.
As it turns out, precious metals are present on the Moon and Mars, but they are embedded within the rock and soil, making it difficult to use them. Bringing mining equipment would, again, be too heavy and expensive to bring from Earth, and the machinery would have to be completely redesigned for use in such an inhospitable environment.
ESA's BioRock project has been working on a solution: biomining in space. Bringing the world's tiniest miners to do the extraction for us.To read more, click here.