A group of NASA researchers has suggested conducting a plant-growth experiment on the U.S. space agency's next Mars rover, which is slated to launch in 2020 and is expected to land on the Red Planet in 2021.
According to Space.com, the initiative is called the Mars Plant Experiment (MPX), and its designers believe the project could contribute a lot in the plan to colonize the fourth planet from the sun.
"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 Heather Smith, MPX deputy principal investigator of NASA's Ames Research Center, 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."
But the MPX team, helmed by another Ames scientist Chris McKay, made it clear that the next Mars rover would not be mainly tasked to act as gardener of sort, because the experiment would be completely independent.
MPX plans to use a clear "CubeSat" box, which would be installed to the exterior of the Mars rover. This box would contain Earth air and approximately 200 seeds of Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard that is traditionally used in scientific research.
Once the rover landed on Mars, the seeds would receive water, and would be left alone to grow for a span of two weeks.
"In 15 days, we'll have a little greenhouse on Mars," Smith told the space and astronomy news website.
Smith explained the team will conduct an organism-level test of the Mars environment. The result of the said investigation will show how Earth life copes with Mars' higher radiation levels and lower gravity strength.
"We would go from this simple experiment to the greenhouses on Mars for a sustainable base," Smith explained. "That would be the goal."
Space.com reported that the 2020 Mars rover is greatly inspired by NASA's Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars last August 2012.