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Mission CO2 to Mars: Engineering Design Challenge!


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In this episode, our listener Ilan shares his brilliant plan to stop climate change in its tracks, and make Mars a place we can live. He wants to filter Earth's excess carbon dioxide from our atmosphere, and then ship our carbon dioxide to Mars to thicken its atmosphere. But will it work? What does it take to get a scientific idea off the ground?

Transcript-CO2 to Mars
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Fortunately, there's a road map to blasting off to Mars with a payload of CO2! It's called "Engineering Design." (Fancy!) With the help of engineering design and some creativity, you can come up with an idea and find out whether it will work. According to engineers, there's no problem that can't be solved, big or small (or medium-sized).

In our episode, we focus on the first part of engineering design: The idea and research. Kristina tells us that the first part of getting an idea off the ground is brainstorming! Scientists do this at scientific conferences, or meetings. We did it by interviewing scientists about their research, and what they thought about Ilan's idea.

Here's what we found out:

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE: The first part of Ilan's plan involves capturing CO2 from the atmosphere. This technology exists! This video explains how it works.

MARS ATMOSPHERE: If you were to travel to Mars tomorrow (!!), you wouldn't be able to go outside without a space suit. But scientists have considered what it would take to make the Martian atmosphere habitable, if not "breathable." (Who needs breathing anyway?) Here's the problems we have to deal with on Mars, and three main ways scientists have thought about changing its atmosphere:

SHIPPING TO MARS: Amazon Prime is a long ways from shipping to the Red Planet, and there's no possibility of next day delivery. Here's how scientists plan for launches years in advance:

Plus, shipping into space is REALLY EXPENSIVE. Here's an article that will tell you some of the costs of getting into the "Final Frontier": Why is Going to Space So Expensive?

Ultimately, cost is the biggest problem, or restriction, to Ilan's idea. As cool as it sounds, shipping CO2 to Mars probably won't work. But in the course of our research, we discovered a lot of new problems to solve, and collaborators to work with! As Kristina said, put your ideas on the table, and people will listen.

What's YOUR idea? What problem does it solve?

How will you research your idea?

What do you think are some of the restrictions? Will you be able to have the time, materials, and money ("budget") needed to make your idea reality?

Will you be able to test your idea? How would you design these tests?

Let us know about your ideas! Email us at

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