For a self-sustaining base on Mars (or elsewhere)... I've read and been told that growing enough plants to eat would produce too much oxygen, but there are many in-depth designs for self-sustaining outposts, and similar things have been achieved here on Earth with Biosphere 2. So, how does one grow enough food to survive on without generating far too much oxygen?

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    $\begingroup$ If the colony can't use the excess oxygen produced by plants it can always be filtered out & vented as waste. $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Jun 4, 2017 at 8:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Fred I highly doubt that this is what Biosphere 2 did, as it was stated to have a far lower oxygen loss rate than theSpace Shuttle. $\endgroup$
    – user19742
    Jun 4, 2017 at 12:35
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    $\begingroup$ How can you have too much oxygen? What isn't consumed / metabolized as food is either organic waste or by-product which has to go somewhere, or be broken back down into nutrients for future food production. To complete that cycle would consume the "surplus" oxygen so there should be no imbalance, right? $\endgroup$
    – Anthony X
    Jun 19, 2017 at 4:13
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    $\begingroup$ If I'm not mistaken, only juvenile plants actually produce oxygen with "adult" ones having a neutral balance of CO2 and O2: when illuminated, they'll produce oxygen through photosynthesis, but when no longer under light, they'll be releasing CO2 and absorbing O2. I've heard this a reason why one should not have too many plants in their bedroom since the CO2 concentration gets high at night leading to morning headaches. $\endgroup$
    – ChrisR
    Jun 19, 2017 at 19:53

1 Answer 1


This question is based on something of a misunderstanding: the study which made excess oxygen a problem was not about a self sustaining mars colony but rather an initial stay relying mainly on stuff brought from Earth. When plants perform photosynthesis they consume CO2 (exhaled by the astronauts and/or from the martian atmosphere) and release O2, which would build up inside the habitat until reaching dangerous levels.

The problem wasn't too much oxygen per-se, but rather that nitrogen would be vented at the same time as the excess oxygen - resulting in the very limited nitrogen reserves running out - since nitrogen is only a small fraction of the Martian atmosphere it is difficult to build up large reserves of it without heavy machinery, and in the study the proposed base could neither prevent nor accommodate the nitrogen losses due to venting excess oxygen.

A well-designed long term colony would either have a way to isolate and eliminate just oxygen, or alternatively have a plentiful source of nitrogen. Either way internal atmospheric pressure and N2/O2 balance could be maintained safely.


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