NASA has decided that it is almost time we have life on Mars. The Ames Research Center has proposed sending plant life to the red dusty planet with the next Mars rover mission.
The proposal is aptly named the Mars Plant Experiment (MPX). It aims to see how Earth plant life would handle the planet’s lower gravity and higher radiation levels. The plan is to convert a clear CubeSat box into a greenhouse of sorts that would be filled with Earth air and about 200 seeds for the Arabidopsis plant. The modified box would sit on top of the rover which will also serve to keep it watered.
“In order to do a long-term, sustainable base on Mars, you would want to be able to establish that plants can at least grow on Mars,” said Heather Smith, the deputy principal investigator for MPX. “We would go from this simple experiment to the greenhouses on Mars for a sustainable base.” She added—although possibly incorrectly, as far as we know—that the plant “also would be the first multicellular organism to grow, live and die on another planet.”
The proposal has not yet been approved. The next Mars rover is scheduled to depart in 2020 while landing in 2021. Currently, NASA is considering at least 58 different instrument proposals while the Curiosity is only carrying 10 instruments, so it is a pretty competitive program.