In less than a decade, there might be life on Mars. No not because the aliens have been hiding all this time, but because NASA might just put it there. The brightest minds at the Ames Research Center recently proposed sending plant life along with the next Mars rover. It's actually a pretty good idea.
Plainly named the Mars Plant Experiment (MPX), the plan aims to see how Earth life handles the red planet's lower gravity and higher radiation levels. But NASA scientists don't expect to dig holes and plant seeds in Martian soil. Rather, they intend to convert a clear CubeSat box into a greenhouse of sorts that will be filled with Earth air and about 200 seeds for the Arabidopsis plant, a cousin to mustard. The box will then live on top of the rover which will keep it watered. The bonsai tree pictured above is a (poor) rendering of what plants on Mars could look like, but the actual NASA rendition isn't much better. The neon green box in the middle is supposed to be the MPX box.
The experiment isn't just to see if it's possible to keep plants alive. It's actually an important step towards figuring out if Mars colonization will ever be possible. "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, the deputy principal investigator for MPX. "We would go from this simple experiment to the greenhouses on Mars for a sustainable base." She added—although possibly incorrectly, as far as we know—that the plant "also would be the first multicellular organism to grow, live and die on another planet."
This specific proposal is still just a proposal. At the end of the day, there's only so much space for so many instruments on the next Mars rover which is scheduled to depart for the red planet in 2020 and land in 2021. At present, NASA's considering proposals for a total of 58 different instruments, and since the Curiosity rover's only carrying about 10 instruments, it seems very unlikely they'll all make the cut. All else fails, we can always just shoot plants at the moon. [Space.com]
Images via NASA / Gizmodo