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Australian university students aim to generate first 'breathable' air on Mars

MELBOURNE, Dec. 16 — A Mars One astronaut candidate and a team of Western Australian students aiming to generate the first breathable air on Mars have reached the finals of the international competition that will land vital experiments on the Red Planet.

Josh Richards, a physicist from Perth, plans to send a system that produces oxygen from water to the Martian surface, as part of the Mars One project that aims to establish a human colony on Mars.

Alongside 60 University of Western Australia students, Richards developed the Helena system which will also include a time capsule of artwork from social media users from around the world.

Richards told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Tuesday the system would split oxygen and hydrogen molecules using electrolysis.

"What we're looking to do is we're going to tap into the water that Mars One lander is going to produce when it goes (to Mars) in 2018," Richards said. "Then we'll use the electricity from the solar panels to split the water into oxygen and hydrogen and we'll essentially prove that you can produce oxygen on Mars that future settlers will be able to use."

Helena, named for the Shakespearean character who breathed life into stone, is the only Southern Hemisphere finalist of the 10 university projects selected. Other projects include an American project to convert urine into drinking water and British project to grow plants in micro-greenhouses created mainly from Martian materials.

Richards said the Helena Payload's simplicity sets it apart from the other competition entries.

"Ours is a vital technology that we'll need to put humans on Mars and it's also something that we can prove quite simply," he said.

The winner of the university payload competition will be announced on Jan. 5, 2015. (PNA/Xinhua)


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