Most people think of Mars as being an arid, inhospitable and very red environment! However NASA don’t see it that way. When the next Mars Rover mission launches in mid 2020 it will eventually touch down on the red planet in 2021 laden with plant seeds, earth air and earth water.
This mission is known as the Mars Plant Experiment (MPX) and it will pioneer growing plants in small greenhouses, with a view to eventually having an agricultural program in place to support a colony of settlers. The MPX mission will seek to establish plant growth in greenhouses on Mars as transporting food to Mars is prohibitively expensive at around $23,000 per kilogram ! This project it is hoped, will eventually feed the inhabitants of a future Mars colony but also other astronauts on deeper space missions. With many manned missions planned to Mars the ability to survive on freshly grown produce will reduce mission costs and keep the humans on the planet healthier and happier.
The 2020 Mars Rover would have a CubeSat box attached to it that that would hold both air and water from earth as well as around 200 seeds of Arabidopsis, a little flowering plant that’s ideal for scientific research on Mars. The seeds would be watered as soon as the the Rover touches down. It is expected that within 15 days there will be a little greenhouse with actual plants growing.
In comparison to our planet, the conditions on Mars are pretty extreme. For instance the air is very thin and non-breathable as the atmosphere is low pressure and high percentage carbon dioxide. The radiation from the sun is many times that we experience here on Earth and temperatures average -63 degrees Celsius.
Heather Smith says of NASA’s Ames Research Center says "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".