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Portuguese scientists will try to grow vegetables in Mars

Staff writer |
The Seed team, based in the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Porto, won a project design contest for experiments on Mars, organised by Mars One, a private foundation that aims to build a colony on this planet and live in it as of 2025.

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Among the other 35 projects chosen through an on-line vote, this one is expected to bring seeds to Mars in 2018 aboard the Mars One's first major mission.

Seed members would thus manage to have their project running at least two years before NASA's Mars Plant Experiment, which also aims to grow vegetables in Mars. Most of them study Molecular Biotechnology or Biomedical Engineering in Oporto, although a Spaniard from the Biological Research Centre, as well as a Dutchman, are also taking part in the project.

Among its competitors, including American, German, Indian or English projects, there were prototypes for stoves, artificial photosynthesis systems or systems to obtain water from urine.

The proposal of the Portuguese team consists in ensuring that plants are grown "to address the issue of the lack of fresh food" on another planet due to the trip's duration, of about ten months; a period during which many foods expire. Plants on Mars would also help humans survive there, as they would produce oxygen.

The plant used in the experiment will be the Arabidopsis thaliana, which belongs to the same family as mustard and is already used in experiments at the International Space Station because of its rapid growth and small seeds, although the possibility of including other species, like arugula, is being discussed.

When the ship arrives to Mars, the Seed team will activate remotely the system to provide heat and water to the frozen seeds, controlling the whole germination and growth process by means of photographs, according to Ferreira.

The development and construction of the prototype is expected to be completed in two years, and participants in Seed estimate that it will cost at least 100,000 euros, although the budget could reach up to one million Euro.

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