NASA recently announced plans to set up a greenhouse on the surface of the Red Planet by 2021. Maybe NASA’s next rover scheduled to launch 2020 will ship the greenhouse there, if the investigation called Mars Plant Experiment (MPX) offers fruitful results to researchers. This would be the first step taken to lay the foundation for the colonization of Mars. In the Humans 2 Mars conference, Heather Ames of NASA’s Ames Research Center and the deputy principal investigator for MPX said that they’ll first just send the seeds and watch them grow. Another interesting point from the conference was that MPX would also initiate an organism-level test, since Mars is known to have high levels of radiation and low gravity. This would be the “first for a multi-cellular organism to grow, live, and die on another planet.”
Ames scientist Chris McKay, who’s leading the MPX team stated that the 2020 rover won’t be playing the role of a gardener. It’d be an entirely self-contained, isolated experiment, and any possibility that earth life could escape its boundary and inhibit Mars is eliminated. As reported on space.com, the MPX would make use of a ‘CubeSat’ box making case for a cheap and tiny satellite, and would be the exterior of the rover. The box shall house Earth’s air and nearly 220 seeds of Arabidopsis – a small flowering plant used widely in areas of scientific research. When the rover lands in Mars, the seeds shall receive water and shall be allowed to grow for two weeks or more.
NASA’s 2020 rover is heavily based on the findings of Curiosity rover. Curiosity discovered a site named Yellowknife Bay which hinted that the planet was habituated billions of years ago. While searching signs of past life is certainly one of the rover’s mission, the agency is still chalking out the details of robot’s mission and the instruments it’s to carry. So far there have been 58 instrument proposals, but we’ll know the certain number only by June. Let’s wait and watch.