The Aurora programme

The Aurora Programme  of the European Space Agency (ESA)  is a long-term programme to explore the Solar System, that will culminate with the first human voyage to Mars in 2030 and will also see man return on the Moon. On parallel lines the presence of life in the Solar System will be sought, in fact most of the missions of the programme shall carry sophisticated instruments that are able to detect even the smallest biological traces.
In the first phase of the programme the first robotic missions will be launched, and developed and tested technologies to support life on an extraterrestrial planet.
At a later date, the foundations shall be laid for astronauts to land on the Moon, where the technologies for the next human expedition to Mars that is scheduled in the third and last phase of the programme,  shall be tested in-situ.
The first problem to be faced will be the development of air and water recycling systems and later on,  the extraction of resources, directly from the planet the spacecraft lands on.
For example, on the Moon, oxygen could be extracted from minerals, while on Mars from the carbon oxide.
However, even before thinking of exploiting the resources of a planet for human survival, it will be necessary to solve the problem of the long time spent in space for the long range space journeys . It is certainly not imaginable to take all the material that is necessary for survival from home. For example a crew of 6 people travelling for 3 years to Mars  would require a load of 33 tonnes, plus the waste materials. It will be necessary to develop technologies that enable the recycling of the fundamental elements for the life of waste materials.
The MELISSA  (Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative) project studies just how, using micro-organisms and superior plants, it is possible to re-create a vital cycle that is fundamental for the survival of human life, plants and bacteria.
MELISSA is a laboratory composed of five compartments dedicated to specific functions, colonized by thermophilic anoxygenic bacteria, photohererotrophic bacteria,  photosynthetic bacteria and higher plants (barley, potatoes, soya, spinach, lettuce and onions).

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