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U.K. researchers plan to grow lettuce on Mars

The lettuce experiment would be a small part of a much more ambitious plan to establish a manned Mars colony by 2025.

By
Brooks Hays
Lettuce may become the first food grown on Mars. (Photo by YK/Shutterstock
Lettuce may become the first food grown on Mars. (Photo by YK/Shutterstock

SOUTHAMPTON, England, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- A group of students at Southampton University in England are looking to grow lettuce on Mars. The researchers -- a combination of undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students -- are currently lobbying for their lettuce-growing experiment to be included on the Mars One lander payload.

Mars One is a Netherlands-based non-profit organization with plans to establish a permanent human colony on Mars by 2025, beating NASA's current aim to send astronauts to Mars by more than a decade. The mission includes plans to launch of a series of unmanned exploratory and supply missions ahead of time. Any lettuce growing apparatuses would be included on the 2018 launch of the Mars One lander.

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The lettuce experiment would see seeds frozen for a multi-week trip to the Red Planet. Once on the Martian surface, the lettuce seeds would be grown inside an inflatable greenhouse that would maintain a constant temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Researchers working on the #LettuceOnMars project recently fielded questions as part of a Reddit AMA. Reddit users grilled researchers on the risks entailed by introducing foreign organisms to the planet.

The students did their best to explain the precautions they will take to ensure the Red Planet remains uncontaminated.

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"First, we will use a lab strain of lettuce that is as clean as it gets," project leaders wrote. "Then we will sterilize all equipment including the surface of the seeds, so the greenhouse will be as virus free as it gets."

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have previously cultivated lettuce. The greens have been grown in Mars-like conditions on Earth as part of experiments at space agency labs.

Mars One has been fiercely criticized by a range of space experts and former astronauts.

"Even ignoring the potential mismatch between the project income and its costs and questions about its longer-term viability, the Mars One proposal does not demonstrate a sufficiently deep understanding of the problems to give real confidence that the project would be able to meet its very ambitious schedule," Chris Welch, director of Masters Programs at the International Space University, said in an interview in 2012.

Mars One estimates the cost of sending and sustaining a group of astronauts on Mars, from arrival through death, will cost some $6 billion. So far they've raised -- through donations and an IndieGoGo campaign -- roughly $600,000.

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