Elon Musk has been vocal about colonizing Mars, which to some may sound like a pipe dream.  NASA, however, revealed plans to make this dream come to life.

Mars

Setting up a greenhouse on Mars

NASA plans involve setting up a greenhouse on the surface of Mars by 2021, which would assist humans as they begin to colonize the moon and Mars. Greenhouses not only produce food but also help recycle air, NASA said in a press release.

“When you get to the idea of growing plants on the moon, or on Mars,” said molecular biologist Rob Ferl, director of Space Agriculture Biotechnology Research and Education at the University of Florida, “then you have to consider the idea of growing plants in as reduced an atmospheric pressure as possible.”

How to grow plants on Mars

A benefit of growing plants in a low-pressure environment is that it reduces the weight of air that would need to be transported from Earth to Mars, the report noted, highlighting how they have thought through details of Mars colonization.  Lunar greenhouses must also “hold up” in places where the atmospheric pressures is less than one percent of Earth-normal.

Greenhouses are best created and managed if their interior pressure is near one-sixteenth of Earth-normal, according to NASA. Ferl and his team have exterminated with plants in a 1/10th Earth-normal. They discovered extra water is needed to replenish plants in such a low-pressure environment, since water is pulled out through the leaves very quickly.

But its about more than just getting a greenhouse going.  Finding cooperative plants might be a problem.  “Remember, plants have no evolutionary preadaptation to hypobaria,” said Ferl. Low pressure makes plants act like they’re drying out, as there is no reason for them to have learned to interpret the biochemical signals induced by low pressure.

Plants begin to act as if they are experiencing a drought when they’re subjected to low pressures, according to Ferl.

“We can make biochemical alterations that change the level of hormones,” said Ferl, addressing the ability to alter a plant’s internal intake needs. “We can increase or decrease them to affect the plants’ response to its environment.”

Controlling air pressure in an Earth greenhouse or a storage bin may make it possible to influence certain plant behaviors so they can flourish on Mars. “The exciting part of this is, we’re beginning to understand what it will take to really use plants in our life support systems.” said Ferl.