The colonization of the solar system will not be possible without massively automating with robots and artificial intelligence the tasks of building permanent bases that can house countless homes. Homo sapiens. We just saw an illustration of this with work on mass production of oxygen on Mars with an AI chemist.
Both Arthur Clarke and Issac Asimov predicted that in the 21ste century, the exploration and colonization of the solar system would not take place until robotsrobots and theartificial intelligenceartificial intelligence. Clarke in particular predicted the WWW back in the 1960s, which gives us all the more reason to take his other predictions seriously.
Of course, everyone dreams of the moon colonies and space colonies that are the result of the work of Gerard Kitchen O’Neill. But what undoubtedly makes us dream the most are the colonies of Mars. However, as we know, the journey to Mars and the establishment of a permanent base on the Red Planet are far from easy and will initially be very expensive as long as a space industry emerges, exactly the kind that O’Neill broadly envisages has eyes. , will be out of place in the robotic exploitation of the moon and asteroids.
One of the challenges for the first Martian colonists will be the need for oxygen to breathe. Fortunately, there are areas on Mars with water and we can consider electrolyzing it (which produces dioxygen O2 and dihydrogen H2 in gaseous form) with electric currentselectric currents produced by solar panels (for the record: the first electrolysis of water was carried out in 1800 by two British chemists, William Nicholson and Anthony Carlisle, a few weeks after the invention of the first electric battery by the Italian Alessandro VoltaAlessandro Volta). However, a good yield would be needed, already because the radiation on the surface of Mars does not have the intensity of that on the surface of the Earth or the moon.
On our Blue Planet we use electrodeselectrodes with what catalystscatalysts to decrease the quantityenergyenergy electricity needed for the production of oxygen. But it would be expensive to get catalysts from Earth, so a team led by Professor Luo Yi, Professor Jiang Jun and Professor Shang Weiwei from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences ( CAS) wondered if there was a way to produce effective catalysts from the soil of Mars.
And this is indeed the case, as these researchers demonstrate in an article published in Nature synthesiswhere they explain that they have used artificial intelligence techniques for this.
They started by collecting samples of several meteorites of different nature, which we know to be of Martian origin on Earth, which arrived after traveling in space for several million years after an ejection from the Red Planet, during a violent impact of an asteroid on Earth. its surface.
The chemical composition of these samples of Martian soil was then analyzed using the technique of laserlaser-induced degradation spectroscopy (LIBS), or in French la emission spectrometryemission spectrometry atomic laser-induced plasma.
A video illustrating the work of Chinese researchers. To get a fairly accurate French translation, click on the white rectangle at the bottom right. English subtitles should then appear. Then click on the nut to the right of the rectangle, then on “Subtitles” and finally on “Auto translate”. Choose “French”. © AI-Chemist Group at the University of Science and Technology of China, Science
An AI that does 2,000 years of the work of a human chemist in two months
An artificial intelligence is fed from its composition meteoritesmeteorites and controls several basic operations in their processing to robotically extract metal hydroxides that will be tested on electrodes.
The same artificial intelligence will then perform quantum chemistry and molecular dynamics simulations for 30,000 possible mixtures of hydroxides. These simulations and possible results regarding the effectiveness of a catalyst produced from these mixtures are then analyzed by a network of neuronsneurons to predict even more efficiently the properties of a certain mixture of metal hydroxides from the soil of Mars.
Actual tests were carried out on these mixtures, which confirmed that good potential catalysts had been found and that the oxygen-producing electrolysis reaction was carried out efficiently under conditions of average Martian temperatures of about -37°C, less for any of these catalysts.
The AI-driven searches are spectacular. They lasted only two months, while it can be estimated that a human chemist would have had to conduct similar experiments for 2,000 years to achieve the same result.