How to plant a garden on Mars—with a robot

May 15, 2013 by Nancy Atkinson, Universe Today
Sketch of the ‘AstroGardening’ robot within its Mars garden Credit: Vanessa Harden

In the last century humanity has taken gigantic leaps forward in the robotic exploration of the cosmos—not least in the search for habitable worlds and environments that could house life outside of the Earth. The next logical step is for humanity itself to leave the confines of our planet, and take on long-term human exploration of the Solar System. Mars in particular is a key target for future human planetary adventures even though on the face of it, it seems so hostile to human life. In fact Mars actually has the most clement environment of any planet in the Solar System outside of Earth and is known to have all of the resources necessary in some accessible form, to sustain life on the surface. So how might we survive on Mars? The crucial things for humans on Mars are the availability of oxygen, shelter, food and water, and not just endless consumables delivered to the planet from Earth. For humans to live long-term on Mars, they will need a self-sustaining habitat to be able to thrive in for generations.

In short, they'll need a garden. And maybe a robot, too.

Any garden on Mars would need protection in the form of a greenhouse or geodesic dome that could keep the vegetables, fruits, grains and flowers sheltered from the extreme that floods the , whilst still allowing enough sunlight through to allow them to grow. This dome would also have to be strong enough to provide support and protection against potentially devastating storms.

The crops would need to be kept warm, as outside the dome it will be on average a freezing -63 °C. arranged outside the habitat and heating underneath it could provide the desired warmth.

is needed for irrigation of the plants and for future , but with water on Mars mainly frozen beneath the surface, we would need to mine the ice and melt it. The atmosphere on Mars is chiefly composed of CO2, which humans cannot use for any of our vital functions. However plants can! They can utilise this atmospheric CO2 to photosynthesise, which would actually create the oxygen we would need.

These are all important aspects of long-term human habitation of Mars that need to be tested and perfected before we arrive, but thankfully most of these can be investigated whilst safely here on the Earth in Mars analogue environments and specially designed spaces.

Our premise is that of a pioneer AstroGardening robot, designed and built by ourselves, to be sent to Mars to set up garden habitats in advance of the first human inhabitants. It will scatter 'seed pills' containing various seeds, clay and nutrients across the habitat and nurture the growing plants.

But before we actually go to Mars, we are working on an interactive 'Mars Garden' exhibit and AstroGardening Rover designed to educate and inspire.

Installation designer Vanessa Harden and I are building such a space; an interactive experience designed for museums and science centers to entertain and educate on the perils and benefits of gardening on Mars, the ways in which we need to design tools to do this, the plants that would best grow in Mars soil and the methods we might use to obtain liquid water.

Visitors to this Mars concept habitat will get to meet the AstroGardening robot himself and walk around a lush and tranquil Martian garden. They will also get to see the range of food stuffs that we can actually grow in the Martian soil such as asparagus, potatoes, sweet potatoes, radish, alfalfa, and mung bean.

Our aim for this exhibit is to communicate the science behind future human habitation of Mars, the effect we as humans can have on an environment, and the ethics and logistics of colonising other planets.

The exhibit has already been invited to tour around some of London's most celebrated and beautiful venues such as observatories and planetariums, museums and art galleries, schools and universities, before heading across the ocean to the US and Canada.

Explore further: Lockheed Martin successfully mates NOAA GOES-R satellite modules

More information: www.kickstarter.com/projects/1… ing-for-life-on-mars

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NotAsleep
3.8 / 5 (4) May 15, 2013
Would it not also be a critical step to genetically engineer plants that are more suitable to the Martian environment?
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.3 / 5 (7) May 15, 2013
Would it not also be a critical step to genetically engineer plants that are more suitable to the Martian environment?
We will certainly want to engineer flora which would be more suitable to the compromise conditions in domes, and also provide additional essential nutrients.

But, depending upon whether or not life already exists there, we would want to begin seeding engineered extremophiles around the planet for terraforming.

Kim stanley robinson seemed to think that the martian day/night cycle would be a problem for earth biota. Domes with smart glass and artificial lighting could compensate but I dont know why we couldnt engineer this into plants as well for living unprotected on the surface.
http://en.wikiped..._trilogy
cantdrive85
1.4 / 5 (9) May 15, 2013
And in a related article;
How to water a Martian plant without water, using a robot...
cantdrive85
1.4 / 5 (9) May 15, 2013
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_trilogy

Lol!
This story shows how we could live on both a desert planet and an ice planet. Not to mention a city planet...
http://en.m.wikip...tar_Wars
antialias_physorg
4.5 / 5 (4) May 15, 2013
Would it not also be a critical step to genetically engineer plants that are more suitable to the Martian environment?

First you need nitrogen fixing bacteria. Then you need nitrogen (of which there is almost none in the Martian atmosphere - and I don't know if there is any in the martian soil in a form that nitrogen fixing bacteria can use)
Of course your nitrogen fixing bacteria that can live in Martian soil - no mean feat...not the best breeding place for Earth bacteria)

If martian soil isn't useable then getting enough viable topsoil to Mars is forbiddingly expensive. Hydroponics would be our best bet inthat case.

containing various seeds, clay and nutrients across the habitat and nurture the growing plants

Sounds like a multi-kilo-tonne mission right there. (And of course the entire habitat has to be set up robotically. No mean feat, either.)

However plants can!

Oh dear. A 'scientific' article with exclamation marks. Beware.

cantdrive85
1 / 5 (8) May 15, 2013
Hydroponics would be great, if there was water. Water is even heavier than soil, seems another expensive logistical problem.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (9) May 15, 2013
First you need nitrogen fixing bacteria. Then you need nitrogen (of which there is almost none in the Martian atmosphere - and I don't know if there is any in the martian soil in a form that nitrogen fixing bacteria can use)
Robinson and others have suggested that this can be imported in bulk from titan.
If martian soil isn't useable then getting enough viable topsoil to Mars is forbiddingly expensive.
Topsoil??? I have stuff growing in my walls where there is no topsoil.
Water is even heavier than soil, seems another expensive logistical problem.
WATER IS EVERYWHERE ON MARS.
http://en.wikiped..._on_Mars

-Why is it that you do not know this??
cantdrive85
1.8 / 5 (10) May 15, 2013
"Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink."

Jeddy_Mctedder
1.9 / 5 (7) May 15, 2013
We need to steer a massive asteroid into mars maybe ceres. perhaps with a little more.Mass and a lot more heat mars maybe inhabitable in 1 million years
nkalanaga
4 / 5 (2) May 15, 2013
The day-night cycle on Mars is less than an hour longer than on Earth, so it shouldn't have any effect. Humans do just fine on Mars time in isolation. The problem with trying to live on it in real life is that one gets out of sync with the rest of Earth, making life difficult. On Mars that wouldn't be a problem because everything would be on the same cycle.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (5) May 15, 2013
It will scatter 'seed pills' containing various seeds, clay and nutrients across the habitat and nurture the growing plants.

Do these "seed pills" also contain "geodesic dome pills"?

Liquid water is needed for irrigation of the plants and for future human consumption, but with water on Mars mainly frozen beneath the surface, we would need to mine the ice and melt it.

How many yards of material would need to be mined for a gallon of water?

The exhibit has already been invited to tour around some of London's most celebrated and beautiful venues such as observatories and planetariums, museums and art galleries, schools and universities,

and comic book and sci-fi stores nationwide.

GSwift7
3 / 5 (4) May 15, 2013
How many yards of material would need to be mined for a gallon of water?


Yes, that's the problem. It would take a LOT of mining to produce a modest amount of water from Martian rocks in temperate zones. I don't think setting up a colony near the Martian poles would be wise. Conditions are too harsh there. There are wind storms similar to hurricanes all Spring and Fall every year, as the co2 freezes and sublimates at the ice cap, not to mention the cold and lack of sunshine for solar power.

Really, once you solve all the other engineering problems, such as building a habitat, growing food, finding water, etc. The biggest problem for people on Mars is always going to be power. We don't know of any good reliable power source on Mars. You would need miles of solar panels, and the dust storms last for several weeks, so don't forget some kind of battery or emergency power.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) May 15, 2013
We probably should first get a workable, self-contained biosphere set up on Earth. All tries so far have been failures. I cannot imagine that with all the added complexities of Mars and limitations of materials such an endeavour would, currently, be anything but.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (4) May 15, 2013
How many yards of material would need to be mined for a gallon of water?
Uh why dont you actually read the link I posted and try to figure it out for yourself?

Too hard? Well then here you go-

"an orbiting Gamma Ray Spectrometer found ice just under the surface of much of the planet. Also, radar studies discovered pure ice in formations that were thought to be glaciers. The Phoenix lander exposed ice as it landed, watched chunks of ice disappear, detected snow falling, and even saw drops of liquid water."

-Answer - not many yards at all. Oh look you could mine some yourself with your shoe.
http://www.telegr...ars.html
Yes, that's the problem. It would take a LOT of mining to produce a modest amount of water from Martian rocks in temperate zones
...Someone else who gets his info out of his ass.
VendicarE
2 / 5 (4) May 15, 2013
"Would it not also be a critical step to genetically engineer plants that are more suitable to the Martian environment?" - Foofie

Why? They are already there.

http://www.marsan...tech.htm

http://www.theliv..._01.html
NotAsleep
5 / 5 (1) May 16, 2013
Why? They are already there.

No. They aren't.
Feldagast
1 / 5 (2) May 18, 2013
TGO is that water ice or CO2 ice?
Wolf358
5 / 5 (1) May 18, 2013
First, Mars needs a factory to turn-out lots of little robots. Then you need a bunch of folk who play Farmville to use those robots to set up domes and greenhouses and solar panels, and plant crops, all by remote control...
GSwift7
1 / 5 (1) May 21, 2013
an orbiting Gamma Ray Spectrometer found ice just under the surface of much of the planet. Also, radar studies discovered pure ice in formations that were thought to be glaciers


Water ice is far from the equator. The gamma ray spectrometer, like the one on Curiosity, detects hydrogen. The interpretation of that hydrogen as being water ice, is highly speculative. Your source is outdated. After closer inspection by Curiosity, we believe that hydrogen is in the form of minerals. It's similar to the limestone rocks of the Grand Canyon here on Earth. There's lots of water in the sedimentary rocks of the desert. You'd have to crush and cook tons of them to get a gallon of water. The energy required to do this would be enormous.

Your rudeness suggests that you might need to get out more. Go for a walk, buy a puppy, talk to some random hottie at a bar. This is just a casual science website comment section. Calm down.