In the same way that plants first came into the world before humans, plans are now afoot in sending plant life to the Red Planet in early 2021 few years before the expected arrival of the first humans in 2024, signaling the advent of a yet another milestone in space exploration.
At the recent Humans 2 Mars Summit, Heather Smith of NASA's Ames Research Center presented a plant-growth research called the Mars Plant Experiment (MPX), which would be sent with the next NASA rover in mid-2020, in lieu of the much-anticipated human colonization in Mars.
"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," said Smith, who is also the deputy principal investigator of MPX.
The project would use the same clear case used for the cheap 10cm-cube satellites called "CubeSat" box, which would hold Earth air and roughly 200 seeds of Arabidopsis or the small flowering rockcress plants related to cabbage and mustard commonly used in scientific research.
Though plants on Mars will be treated like the normal plants here on Earth (they would receive water upon arrival and would be allowed grow for around two weeks), they would not be tended by the next Mars rover, unlike any human would do for his or her garden. No digging of holes will be involved nor even sowing seeds in the Red Planet's soil.
The whole experiment, according to the team led by another Ames scientist Chris McKay, would be "self-contained," meaning it would eliminate the chances of Earth life escaping and set free on Mars' soils.
Smith, who has conducted numerous research in astrobiology and life in extreme environments, is in high hopes that the experiment would give a glimpse on how Earth life would survive in Mars' high radiation levels, not to mention the low gravity that is 62 percent lower than our planet.
Meanwhile, the rover that would follow Curiosity on Mars is tasked to look for life that previously existed on the planet. Engineers and scientists of the space agency have yet to determine which type of instruments it will be equipped with.
The proposal is just one of many sophisticated space exploration blueprint developed for future colonization of another planet. In 2009, Electrolux held a contest called Electrolux Design Lab and one of the finalists is the robotic greenhouse for Mars named Le Petit Prince.
Conceptualized by Martin Miklica of Brno University of Technology in Czech Republic, the ultra-futuristic pod has a glass greenhouse fixed atop that caters to a single plant, which is nurtured by the hydroponic solution enclosed in the pod. With the help of its four claw-like legs and a camera eye, the machine looks for the best place for the plant to develop.
Plans are also underway for a plant growth facility in the nearby International Space Station to finally supply astronauts fresh food.