Future astronauts on Mars will need to have green fingers if they’re going to survive.
A British-led group is planning to grow lettuce on the red planet in the hope it will help feed a future colony.
If its plans are accepted, lettuce could be sent to hostile planet as soon as 2018, as part of the Mars One mission to establish a human settlement there in 2025.
On Mars, temperatures drop to -90°C at night, huge dust storms cover the entire planet for weeks, and wind speeds can reach 60mph (30 metres per second).
It sounds like a tough environment for any human to survive in, let alone other living creatures such as plants.
But the project, being run at the University of Southampton, aims to nurture the salad vegetable in a greenhouse, which would protect it from these harsh conditions.
Project leader Suzanna Lucarotti said: ‘To live on other planets we need to grow food there. No-one has ever actually done this and we intend to be the first.
‘This plan is both technically feasible and incredibly ambitious in its scope, for we will be bringing the first complex life to another planet.’
For the project, called #LettuceOnMars, the greenhouse would be launched from Earth with lettuce seeds, water, nutrients, and systems for atmospheric processing and electronic monitoring.
On the way to Mars, it would be powered down and inactive, during which time the lettuce seeds will be frozen.
Following a safe landing, the Mars One lander will start to supply power and heating elements to maintain a temperature between 21°C to 24°C.
Carbon dioxide, which is essential for plant life, would be extracted from the Martian atmosphere and processed before entering the growth chamber.
The lettuce would then be grown without soil, and would be regularly sprayed with water and nutrients.
Once the environment had reached suitable conditions, the plant would start growing.
The aim is then for photos of the lettuce to be transmitted to Earth, so the public and scientists would be able to watch the lettuce mature from seed to full plant.
Once the mission is completed, the heaters would switch to full power, exterminating all life in the payload.
The plan is one of 10 short-listed university projects, and the only one from the UK, to be selected for potential inclusion in the payload for the Mars One landing in 2018.
Other entries include Cyano Knight, a German project aiming to change a small amount of the 95 per cent carbon dioxide Mars atmosphere into oxygen using cyanobacteria.
A contraption designed to generate the first breathable air on Mars has also reached the finals of a global competition to land experiments on the red planet.
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