NASA to Send Plant Seeds in Greenhouse Box to Mars by 2021

Though researchers have proposed in 2001 to send a greenhouse plant to Mars, it took nearly two decades for the plan to come true and the next Mars rover will have the greenhouse plant developed by NASA for Mars.

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Ames scientist Chris McKay

It will be on NASA’s next Mars rover, which is scheduled to launch in mid-2020 and land on the Red Planet in early 2021 and the mission is called Mars Plant Experiment (MPX), which could help lay the foundation for the colonization of Mars.

“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 mission investigator Heather Smith, of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, said while addressing the Humans 2 Mars conference in Washington, DC in April this year.

The MPX team is led by Ames scientist Chris McKay and mission investigator Heather Smith, of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. The experiment would be entirely self-contained and not planted by robot arm of the rover, said the sscientists.

MPX will be sent in the form of a box holding Earth air and about 200 seeds of Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant. The seeds would get water when the rover touched down on Mars, and would be allowed to grow for 15 days. “In 15 days, we’ll have a little greenhouse on Mars,” Smith said.

This greenhouse experiment would provide clues as to how Earth life deals with the Red Planet’s high radiation and low gravity. “We would go from this simple experiment to the greenhouses on Mars for a sustainable base,” Smith said. “That would be the goal.”

Currently, Curiosity rover on Mars has shown us that a site called Yellowknife Bay was, indeed, habitable billions of years ago on Mars.

The next Mars rover to be sent in 2020 would search for signs of past Mars life, and collect rock and soil samples for eventual return to Earth. NASA has been given a list of 58 instruments to send for this mission compared to 10 aboard the Curiosity rover.

Sponsored by the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC), which investigates revolutionary ideas that could greatly advance NASA’s missions in the future, the researchers are now designing such plants which can survive heat and gravity on Mars, besides providing oxygen, fresh food, and even medicine to astronauts..

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