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Plants to Grow on Mars by 2021

May 08, 2014 11:47 AM EDT
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Life may be touching down on Mars sooner than we think. It just won't be planting any flags or playing golf. Researchers have proposed attempting to grow plants in a mobile greenhouse on Mars during the next Mars rover landing, which is tentatively expected to land on the planet by 2021.

The proposed project, known as the Mars Plant Experiment (MPX), has been designed with the potential future colonization of Mars in mind.

Last April, at the annual Human to Mars Conference in Washington DC, the MPX team presented their plans for Mar's first greenhouse experiment to a host of NASA scientists and similar experts.

"In order to do a long-term, sustainable base on Mars, you would want to be able to establish that plants can at least grow on Mars," MPX deputy principal investigator Heather Smith, of NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., said during the presentation.

For the initial MPX project, the team is proposing that the 2020 Mars rover, which will be touching down on the Red Planet in 2021, should simply carry with it a large air-tight greenhouse-like cube that contains Earth air and 200 seeds of Arabidopsis -- or thale cress -- a tiny flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard. This flower is commonly used in study of plant biology, as it is one of the first plants to have its entire genome sequenced by science. This same plant is reportedly going to be grown on the Moon later next year, according to NASA Ames Research Center.

According to the MPX team, the "greenhouse" carried by the 2020 rover will deliver water to the seeds the second the rover touches down, allowing researchers to observe the entire process of plant-growth on Mars, which has significantly lower gravity and elevated radiation levels.

"We would go from this simple experiment to the greenhouses on Mars for a sustainable base," Smith said in April. "That would be the goal."

The MPX plan was presented by Smith and her team at the annual Human to Mars Conference in Washington D.C. on April 24.

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