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#Science

LettuceOnMars – The Agenda

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News about a project aimed at growing Lettuce on Mars has been all over the place since yesterday and with the curiosity building up on what the project is all about, we take a sneak peak at the mission, agenda and few details about the project.

LettueOnMars is a student project at the University of Southampton Spaceflight Society that intends to grow lettuce on the red planet by the year 2018 using gases available on the planet with little goods imported from the Earth. “Our objective is to demonstrate the ability to grow small plants with gases obtained from the Martian atmosphere, with a minimum of material imported from Earth”, reads the mission statement of the project.

Though this project students intend to demonstrate that if plant life can survive in the Martian atmosphere, there is a possibility that humans can as well.

The agenda of the project is quite simple:

  • Lettuce seeds will be frozen during the cruise to Mars, which is expected to take around 7 months
  • During the landing phase, heaters around the storage chamber will maintain a temperature between 21 and 24°C
  • Carbon Dioxide from the Martian atmosphere will extracted, heated and pressurised.
  • Oxygen will be produced by electrolysis of water brought from Earth.
  • Part of the water with dissolved will be vapourised in the growth chamber.
  • Considering that the conditions are now ideal, seed germination will commence.
  • To provide enough light for photosynthesis, light from both the sun and LEDs will be used.
  • Regular growth data will be sent back to earth using growth sensors, while visual records will be obtained through photographs.
  • If the project is successful, the lettuces will fully grow in 4 weeks time and once all the data has been received alongside visual confirmation, heaters will be used to destroy the plant.

One may ask why will the lettuce be destroyed? This is the explanation from the project’s site:

“We intend to destroy the life at the end of our experiment as one of our precautionary measures to ensure we completely prevent the possibility of any release of biological material to Mars. As a responsible visitor to Mars, we need to make sure we do not allow any biological material to escape into the Martian Environment and mislead future scientists searching for life.”

The project has already made it to the finals and needs popularity votes to get selected. If you think the project is worth your vote, do cast yours at their site.