Southampton students bid to grow lettuce on Mars

Southampton students on Mars lettuce projectImage source, University of Southampton

A student project to grow lettuce on Mars has reached the finals of an international competition to conduct experiments on the red planet.

The University of Southampton bid is the only shortlisted UK entry in the contest by Mars One, which aims to establish a settlement on Mars.

The winning experiment will arrive on an unmanned craft in 2018, along with the official Mars One experiments.

The winner will be decided by a public vote, which ends on 31 December.

Southampton project leader Suzanna Lucarotti said: "To live on other planets we need to grow food there. No-one has ever actually done this and we intend to be the first.

"This plan is both technically feasible and incredibly ambitious in its scope, for we will be bringing the first complex life to another planet.

"Growing plants on other planets is something that needs to be done, and will lead to a wealth of research and industrial opportunities that our plan aims to bring to the University of Southampton.

"We have tackled diverse sets of engineering challenges... We can build this here and now, the only step now is to win the public vote."

The proposal involves a growth chamber containing the frozen seeds, which will pressurise and heat up after landing.

Oxygen will be produced by electrolysis of water brought from Earth, while dissolved nutrients will be vaporised in the growth chamber.

It is expected the lettuce will take four weeks to grow before being heated up and killed off to stop possible contamination.

Nine other entries, from universities in the USA, Australia and India, were shortlisted out of a possible 35.

They included experiments into making water from urine, generating oxygen out of carbon dioxide and locating ice deposits for the production of water.

Mars One is a not-for-profit foundation that aims to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars.

It began the search for astronauts in 2013 and more than 200,000 people registered for the first selection programme.

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