TECH

Martian Lettuce Could Be The First Living Thing On Mars By 2018

30/12/2014 08:56 GMT | Updated 30/12/2014 09:59 GMT

We might not have found a coffin on Mars - but a team of science students have created a plan to land a lettuce on the red planet.

And now it has been short-listed to be included in a future space flight to the red planet.

The project, being run at the University of Southampton, aims to put the first life on Mars by growing the salad vegetable in a greenhouse which will use the atmosphere and sunlight to help it grow.

The plan is one of 10 short-listed university projects, and the only one from the UK, to be selected for potential inclusion in the payload for the Mars One landing in 2018.

university of southampton

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 fail-safe planetary protection systems and then integrated them all into one payload on a tight mass, power and cost budget."

university of southampton

For the project called #LettuceOnMars, the greenhouse would be launched from Earth with lettuce seeds, water, nutrients, and systems for atmospheric processing and electronic monitoring.

On the way to Mars, it would be powered down and inactive whilst the lettuce seeds are frozen.

Following a safe landing, the Mars One lander will start to supply power and heating elements to maintain a temperature between 21C to 24C.

Carbon dioxide, which is essential for plant life, would be extracted from the Martian atmosphere and processed before entering the growth chamber.

The lettuce would then be grown without soil and would be regularly sprayed with water and nutrients (aeroponically).

Once the environment had reached suitable conditions, the plant would start growing.

The aim is then for photos of the lettuce to be transmitted to Earth, so the public and scientists would be able to watch the lettuce mature from seed to full plant. Once the mission is completed, the heaters would switch to full power, exterminating all life in the payload.