Pinned

NASA Wants to Study Earth Plants on Mars

Featured Image

NASA is eying manned missions to Mars and even exploring options for permanent outposts on the Moon. But before establishing extraterrestrial colonies, NASA wants to study plants on Mars to get a better sense of how Earth life handles the conditions of the red planet.

NASA is eying manned missions to Mars and even exploring options for permanent outposts on the Moon. But before establishing extraterrestrial colonies, NASA wants to study plants on Mars to get a better sense of how Earth life handles the conditions of the red planet.

Studying Earth plant life on other worlds is of interest to NASA because, as the space agency points out, “As seedlings, they can be as sensitive as humans to environmental conditions, sometimes even more so.” Plant life is considered a crucial element for future colonists, as plants would provide necessities to colonists like food and air. Although NASA plans to send plants to the Moon aboard a lander in 2015 to study germination of plants in lunar gravity and radiation, the space agency already has plans to do similar research on Mars.

The Mars Plant Experiment (MPX) is scheduled to launch in mid 2020, reaching the red planet in early 2021. MPX deputy principal investigator Heather Smith of NASA’s Ames Research Center explains to Space.com that “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.” But researchers aren’t planning to contaminate Martian soil by planting seeds from Earth. The MPX will be completely contained, with the seeds enclosed in a tiny “CubeSat” box that will be attached to the next Mars rover, and it will serve as a mini greenhouse. Scientists hope that this small-scale test can show how Earth life deals with the Mars’s high radiation and low gravity.

mars plant experiment 600x444 NASA Wants to Study Earth Plants on Mars

The Mars Plant Experiment on top of a Curiosity rover image. (Credit: Chris McKay and the MPX Proposal Team)

Manned missions to Mars are on NASA’s radar, and could happen as soon as 2030. NASA administrator Charles Bolden stated last year that sending humans to Mars is “necessary if the human race is to survive.”

But thanks to the new space race spurred by the private space industry, NASA might be a little late to the party. Although NASA discusses manned missions to Mars and theoretical future Martian outposts, the non-profit space company Mars One is on track to establish its Martian colony in 2025. The company recently announced that it has reduced the pool of potential colonists from 1,058 down to 705. This number had previously been reduced from the more than 165,000 people who reportedly expressed interest in being among the first human colonists on Mars. The remaining candidates now advance to an interview round with Mars One’s selection committee. The company will eventually select a crew of four to be the first colonists, sending additional crews in two-year increments.

mars one ftr NASA Wants to Study Earth Plants on Mars

Artist’s rendition of human settlements on Mars. (Credit: Mars One)

NASA’s upcoming plant life tests on the Moon and on Mars are viewed as essential experiments to move forward with humanity’s impending expansion to a multi-planetary society. But with other space companies like Mars One pushing forward with colonies on Mars in the near future, NASA’s abstract colonization plans could be left in the red Martian dust.

Recent Articles