Plant life may be touching down on the Red Planet in 2021.
NASA researchers have proposed the Mars Plant Experiment (MPX), an initiative used to assess and aid in the potential colonization of Mars. The proposal is to put a plant-growth experiment on the next Mars Rover, set to launch in 2020 and land in 2021.
“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,” MPX deputy principal investigator Heather Smith, of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, said April 24 at the Humans 2 Mars conference in Washington, D.C. “This would be the first step in that … we just send the seeds there and watch them grow.”
MPX would employ a clear “CubeSat” box — the case for a cheap and tiny satellite — which would be affixed to the exterior of the 2020 rover. This box would hold Earth air and about 200 seeds of Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant that’s commonly used in scientific research. When the Rover touches down, the seeds will receive water and be allowed to grow for about 2 weeks.
The experiment would be entirely self-contained, eliminating the chance that Earth life could escape and perhaps get a foothold on Mars.