July 30, 2014

NASA May Put a Greenhouse on the Red Planet Scientific American

Posted by tourdemars to Future Missions at July 30, 2014 4:24 PM

At long last Earthlings may be on the verge of colonizing another planet—but those first Terran ambassadors will be plants, not humans. NASA is expected to announce within days whether they will attach a one-liter “greenhouse” to its next Mars rover to be launched in 2020. A similar greenhouse would take a voyage to the moon with any team that manages to land a robot there by 2015 to snag Google’s Lunar X PRIZE. These experiments could illuminate whether human colonization of the moon or Mars could be possible. NASA’s proposed Mars Plant Experiment, or MPX, aims to answer two questions: Can plants germinate and grow in Martian gravity? And can they thrive while being bombarded by cosmic rays? To find out, investigators would attach a small, clear cube filled with carbon dioxide to the rover’s shoulder, says Heather Smith, a deputy principal investigator for MPX. Inside would be 250 seeds of the Arabidopsis plant, a fast-growing cousin of mustard chosen because it has been studied exhaustively by scientists. After the rover lands the seeds would be soaked with water; heaters and LEDs would regulate their temperature. Over the next 10 to 15 days, via sensors and cameras, the world could observe the first beings we know of to be born, live and die on another planet.
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