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Growing Plants on Mars: The Future of Martian Agriculture

Mars_atmosphere

Image source: Google Images

For years we have been determined to stick our flag in Martian soil. There are even opportunities for future volunteers to be launched off to Mars by 2023 – with over 200,000 applicants vying for one of just 4 available (and permanent) slots.

Perhaps the most critical factor in determining the likelihood of human colonization on Mars is whether we can successfully implement a self-sustaining agricultural system within the planet’s extreme climate.

Mars_Science_Laboratory_Curiosity_rover_cropped

Image source: Google Images

Ever since the Mars rover, “curiosity”, took to the red planet, there has been a steady spike in proposals for Martian agriculture. Most utilize the idea of hydro- and aeroponic technology. By the early 2000’s, there was already news of the possibility of operating greenhouses on Mars. These greenhouses would be occupied by individuals who identify as farmers more so than astronauts. Though we’ve yet to install these farms, the theories they present have continued to evolve substantially over the last decade.

More recently, NASA themselves have been encouraging global participation in the future of space exploration. In particular, they have accomplished this with their International Space Apps Challenge.

mars-surface

Image source: Google Images

NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge has provided a platform for public collaboration resulting in new ideas to encourage global technological progression and innovation in the various fields of science. Ideally, this will bring about solutions to existing obstacles as well. The last competition brought to light an answer to the program’s deploy-able greenhouse challenge, which would enable astronauts to harvest spinach on Mars. This “best in class” project won in the category of “Best Mission Concept”, and has be aptly named “Popeye on Mars.”

spinach-dome

Image source: hithub.com

pcp-panels

Image source: spaceappschallenge.org

Popeye on Mars is a deploy-able dome that can grow fresh spinach in approximately 45 days, with a maximum growth time of 65 days. The dome’s outer shell conceals photovoltaic panels that open up during the day to soak up solar energy. At night, the shell resumes dome form, wherein the internal greenhouse resides. Spinach is grown using aeroponic technology. Once a harvest cycle is complete, stored oxygen and produced seeds are collected. The process is then ready to begin again, creating a sufficient cycle of continuous spinach harvests that may in future be applicable to other types of produce.

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