YOUNG VOICES

Southampton University Students' Plan To Grow Lettuce On Mars Is Hotting Up

12/12/2014 12:30 GMT | Updated 12/12/2014 12:59 GMT
Lettuce On Mars

A student project which hopes to grow lettuce on Mars is hotting up after it was the only UK entry to reach the finals of an international competition, run by MarsOne.

The group of students from Southampton University's spaceflight society were shortlisted with nine other university projects based on technical feasibility and popularity.

If crowned the winners, the group will send a small greenhouse to the planet, and will grow the salad using the atmosphere and sunlight on Mars.

The MarsOne lander will launch in 2018, with the foundation aiming to establish permanent human settlement on the Red Planet by 2026.

The Southampton team is made up of seven students, studying a range of subjects from biological sciences to engineering. They chose lettuce as it has already been grown in closed environments both on Earth and in orbit, and can easily be transported to Mars as a durable seed.

Project leader Suzanna Lucarotti, said: "To live on other planets we need to grow food there. No-one has ever actually done this and we intend to be the first. This plan is both technically feasible and incredibly ambitious in its scope, for we will be bringing the first complex life to another planet.

"Growing plants on other planets is something that needs to be done, and will lead to a wealth of research and industrial opportunities that our plan aims to bring to the University of Southampton.

"We have tackled diverse sets of engineering challenges, including aeroponic systems, bio filters, low power gas pressurisation systems and failsafe planetary protection systems and then integrated them all into one payload on a tight mass, power and cost budget. We can build this here and now, the only step now is to win the public vote."

The group's mission is to demonstrate the ability to grow small plants with gases obtained from the planet's atmosphere, with a minimum of material taken from Earth.

The students add: "Proving that plant life can thrive in the controlled greenhouse environment and that the resources within can be appropriately managed is an important step towards demonstrating that a human colony will also be able to survive."

Members of the public have until the end of December to vote. Visit LettuceonMars.com for information on how to cast your vote.