Mars Colonies Will Be Fed Lettuce

A team of British researchers is aiming to rocket in the first life on Mars by 2018, according to the Independent. But it’s not human life: it’s lettuce.

The mission, which has been dubbed Lettuce On Mars, hopes to “demonstrate the ability to grow small plants with gases obtained from the Martian atmosphere, with a minimum of material imported from Earth.” By cultivating lettuce on the red planet, the project will also prove that plant life can boom in a controlled greenhouse environment with just Mars-based resources. Thus, showcasing that a human settlement on the planet will also be able to survive.

Launched by students from the University of Southampton, the project is currently asking for votes from the public so that it can advance in proceedings. If successful, the vegetables will be taken by a lander and sent to the planet by MarsOne — the not-for-profit foundation that aims to establish a human colony on the planet by 2026 as part of a mission that will be funded by a reality TV show.

“To live on other planets we need to grow food there,” project leader Suzanna Lucarotti said. “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.”

The project, which is led by the University’s Spaceflight Society, chose lettuce because it is a widely studied species – one that is edible and efficient in its use of space and its ease of transportation. How it will work technically is, when the seeds arrive on Mars, they will be grown in an aluminum and polycarbonate greenhouse. Seemingly, the structure will be in an area where humans could eventually settle when they arrive on the planet.

In terms of sun, natural light is about 50% as strong on Mars; days are about 40 minutes longer. As such, the lettuce will have enough sunlight to thrive in, though the process will be helped by backup LEDs that boost light.

After the lettuce is grown, it will be incinerated to ensure that no biological material is released onto the planet. A signal will then be sent to “heaters” that are designed to kill all forms of life – in this case, vegetation – by the payload.