Friday, July 25, 2008

Travel Day 2: Moon and Mars greenhouse in the Arctic?

Yes, it's true.  At Iqaluit Airport, waiting for our connecting flight to Resolute Bay, the Spaceward Bound Arctic group met Matt Bamsey, a post-doc from the Canadian Space Agency.  Matt's work involves researching how to develop autonomous greenhouses for use on the Moon and Mars.  The reasoning is that on those missions we don't want astronauts spending a large percentage of their time growing food necessary for their survival during long-duration expeditions.  So, if greenhouses can be developed that run automatically, and can handle the unique light and dark environs of both the Moon and Mars, astronauts have more time to devote to the science goals of the mission.  Search terms such as "Arthur Clarke Mars Greenhouse Haughton Mars Project Devon Island" for more information.

Why the Arctic?  Moon: extreme environment.  Mars:  extreme environment.  Arctic:  You guessed it.  Extreme environment.


benppam@ said...

A martian greenhouse should have an insulated floor, in other words, an inflatable bubble. It should have lightweight, flexible, supports so it doesn't depend entirely on pressure to hold its shape. It must have heating and supplemental lighting. A mixture of flourescent and full spectrum lamps might provide enough light to simulate Earth-like illumination. The bubble could be inflated initially with native CO2. A Sabatier reaction machine could separate oxygen from the CO2 in the Martian regolith, for use in the human habitat and in the greenhouse. Gradually O2 levels would increase. Don't count on vegetables to produce oxygen. As food is harvested periodically, Oxygen levels will drop. Grow trees as well, for latex (euphorbia), and cellulose for plastics. Fruit trees are useful, as only the fruit is harvested, while the leaves continue to produce oxygen, and the trunks sequester carbon. DO NOT plant in the regolith. Forward contamination is the first step in Terraforming - if that is not the mission objective, don't do it. Also, if there are micro-organisms in the regolith their effects on Terrestrial life is unknown. Furthermore, frigid ground temperatures would make heating the greenhouse difficult.
Powering the heaters and lights cannot be done by solar without a very large array. Other power sources will have to be found.
Finally, due to the weight of the necessary equipment, launch it seperately from the crew habitat. The crew habitat might integrate some kind of hydroponic garden into its structure. Zero G gardening is an unknown, so maybe activate the habitat garden after arrival on Mars

benppam@ said...

Nitrogen will be a problem. Native deposits of nitrates must be found to make this possible. Then a portion would have to be gassified and pumped into the greenhouse. I have found no indication from my limited sources that free nitrogen or nitrates have been found on Mars.

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