NASA is actively researching how we to go about creating a human colony on Mars and the first step is farming for food. Unfortunately, growing food on Mars may be a challenge NASA underestimated.
Though research on the International Space Station shows that plants can in fact grow in microgravity, scientists aren’t sure how the reduced gravity will affect crops only previously grown on Earth. Mars’ surface receives roughly half the amount of sunlight Earth does, so we’d need a whole lot of extra light from a greenhouse-like structure.
And getting that light requires a great deal of power. NASA has been experimenting with the use of LED lighting to give plants the wavelengths they need to flourish.
“In terms of the systems engineering required, it’s not an insignificant challenge,” said D. Marshall Porterfield, Life and Physical Sciences division director at NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.
That greenhouse would also have to be enormous. The more energy pressure inside a greenhouse, the bigger of a structure it would have to be.
“You don’t have to inflate that greenhouse to Earth-normal pressure in order for plants to grow,” said Robert Ferl, director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Biotechnology Research at the University of Florida. “Maintaining a full atmosphere of pressure is difficult on a planetary surface. You can take plants down to a tenth of an atmosphere and they’ll still function.”
Farmers on the planet would need to be able to protect themselves and their plants from radiation. Mars doesn’t have a layered, protective atmosphere like Earth’s, so the plants would be vulnerable to particles from space. And these particles would enter Mars through all the stuff we send from Earth.
“To maintain the infrastructure is the expensive part to grow plants, coupled with the need for redundancy if something fails,” MacCallum said.
He went on to say that it looks like it would would take 15 to 20 Earth years to transfer all the materials needed to create our greenhouse/garden.
If it’s going to take that long to transfer all that equipment, it might be more efficient to just ditch the farming idea and send the food over from Earth.
NASA has yet to figure out the best way to create a sustainable civilization on Mars, but scientists are very confident that its an achievement well within our reach.
“Every great migration in history happened because we took our agriculture with us,” Ferl said. “When you learn to take your plants with you, you can not only go to visit, you can go there to stay and live.”
Via Space.com, Photo Courtesy Mars One