According to Nasa, the first Mars explorers will need to be able to grow their own food on a mission that could last years with no prospect of resupply.
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) says with the current technology a permanent settlement on Mars is "not feasible". Researchers simulated the conditions of living on Mars. The main problem was for colonists to grow and eat their own crops.
In a 35-page report they said: "The first crew fatality would occur approximately 68 days into the mission. Some form of oxygen removal system is required, a technology that has not yet been developed for space flight." The study concluded: "We look forward to the day when humanity becomes an interplanetary species.”
But now, Astronauts on board the International Space Station have grown their own lettuce.
A scientist working on the project, said: "There is evidence that supports the idea that fresh foods such as tomatoes, blueberries and red lettuce are a good source of antioxidants. Having fresh food like these available in space could have a positive impact on people's moods and also could provide some protection against radiation in space."
For the first attempt at space farming scientists chose a hardy variety of red romaine lettuce as the crop. The first experiment was sent back to Earth and tested to check it was safe.
To evaluate the impact a long mission to Mars would have on the human body, one twin remains on Earth and the other is spending a year on the space station.
How did they grow the space salad?
The first "space salad" was nurtured from seeds in zero gravity for 33 days under lights in a special pod known as "Veggie".
Lettuce seeds were embedded in rooting pillows which contained soil and fertiliser. Moisture was delivered using a special irrigation system underneath the soil.
Once declared safe to eat, one of the twins then grew the second batch under red, blue, and green lights.
Tending to vegetables would provide those on the first mission with a distraction, and help them to maintain their sanity while millions of miles from home.
Source: The Telegraph.
So, I've learned two things.
1) The importance of tomatoes, blueberries and red lettuce as a source of antioxidants.
2) The need for mankind to tend plants, thereby maintaining their mental health and well-being.
I'm just off to write a book that involves a lead female astronaut tweaking her male companion's crop, while he attempts to sabotage the space station's intelligence. The red romaine lettuce plants develop blue eyes, sprout feet and ...
I don't mind these ideas set in in literature, but I'm glad I won't be among the first people who try to colonize another planet.
Would you volunteer to travel in space?