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An interactive 'Mars Garden' exhibit and AstroGardening Rover designed to educate and inspire!

Have you ever looked into the night sky and wondered, "What would it be like to live on another planet?", "Is there life on other worlds?", "Would trees and plants grow on Mars?" We have!

If we as humans want to visit or even live on another world we will need food. And not just food shipped to us from Earth, but sustainable food that we can grow, live off and cultivate for future generations. We need gardens, and lots of them! Where is the best place to practice growing these gardens? Well right here on Earth...and you can help! 

We have designed an exhibit to allow you to study the plant life that could grow on Mars and meet the world’s first AstroGardening rover. No rover has ever been designed to garden in space....ours is!! Our rover will be actively planting the garden as you walk around the exhibit using 'Seed pills' and specially designed gardening tools! 

What are 'Seed pills'?

Small pill-sized capsules (a ball made of clay, compost and seeds). Just drop where needed, or even throw at a distance. When the pill meets water the capsule melts and the seed is sown....and you have the beginning of your garden! These 'seed pills' are brilliant and can work anywhere...

Seed pills...look how small and cute they are!
Seed pills...look how small and cute they are!

If you are able to support this project we will send you some!!

Our aim for this exhibit is to communicate the science behind future human habitation of Mars, the effect we as humans can have on an environment, and the ethics and logistics of colonising other planets. Through child-friendly, and adult-friendly, interactive areas we have designed a Martian landscape you can walk across, study and name your own Martian plants, learn how we will use the very rock and ice on Mars to garden, and hopefully you can give our rover his new name! The exhibit has already been invited to tour around some of London’s most celebrated and beautiful venues such as observatories and planetariums, museums and art galleries, schools and universities, before heading across the ocean to the US and Canada. 

We need your help to make this tour and exhibit a reality!!

 We have designed and built the 'AstroGarden' to portray the processes that would be involved in gardening on Mars, and have communicated these through innovation and design. Combining design with the fields of engineering, botany and astrobiology, The AstroGarden and its AstroGardening Rover will give us an insight into a possible future for humanity outside of the Earth. 

AstroGardening Rover cruising around his Mars garden
AstroGardening Rover cruising around his Mars garden

Science + Design + Education = Inspiration 

With incredible advances being made in space exploration, the idea of harvesting crops and planting gardens in space is leaving the realms of science fiction and actually becoming a reality. Current research in the fascinating field of Astrobiology aka “space biology” has proven that certain seeds can be grown in soils similar to those found on Mars and even on meteorites...so why couldn't we grow a garden?? Gardening on Mars would provide a long-term food source for future human colonies and could provide over half their required calorie intake through the growth of tomatoes, potatoes and other fruit and vegetables. Gardens would not just provide food. They will also help to recycle nutrients, provide drinking water and create oxygen for us to breathe. They could even provide building materials such as wood and bamboo.

What would our Mars plants need?

They need water, oxygen, sunlight, nutrients and fertilisers, and nice comfortable temperatures. Many of these are not found on Mars, but this does not mean plants cannot grow there. The re-design of simple Earth objects such as gardening tools, and the development of specialised systems to plant the seeds and nurture the growing plants, can and will allow us to grow gardens on Mars....so let us show you how in our exhibit!  

The Science (for those who want to know....)

Mars is our red and dusty next-door neighbour with a non-breathable thin, low pressure carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere (ours by comparison is a lovely breathable Nitrogen and Oxygen-rich atmosphere!), extremely strong radiation from the Sun and very cold temperatures (average of -63 °C!). It has 38% of the gravity that we have on the Earth (making building and walking difficult...think astronauts bouncing on the moon!) and is ravaged by global dust storms with huge dust devils that tower above the largest tornadoes on the Earth. This is not a world you imagine would be able to support most of the plant and animal life we can see on the Earth, let alone a garden. 

But if we are ever going to stay on Mars for extended periods, or even permanently move there, we need to figure out how to sustain ourselves indefinitely. Not only is food essential for us to live; but the act of eating, cooking and growing plants is absolutely crucial to the psychology of space explorers who are far from home. Even with Mars’s low gravity, cooking and cultivation during daily life on Mars is possible, and is being simulated right now at Hi-SEAS in Hawai’i. With food and plants being so important to humans for their mental and physical survival - we need to grow them!

First we need a greenhouse-type structure to protect them, as they would not survive exposed on the surface. A 5 x 20 m structure constructed out of flexible UV-resistant plastic would easily be able to protect the garden from the strong UV radiation present on Mars. The dome in our exhibit will look a lot like the geodesic dome at HI-SEAS in Hawaii (Louisa is working on this NASA-funded mission, if you are interested check out their progress here: http://hi-seas.org/).

The mission that would send our rover to Mars could easily transport and deploy this structure, anchoring it into the Martian regolith just like a tent. Solar panels would surround the structure to absorb the suns energy to provide power to run the habitat. Although it is hard to imagine, all the necessary materials to support life can be found in some form on Mars, we just need your help to design the tools and technologies to make use of it. 

Such thoughts have led to the design of all the elements of our exhibit. Examples include the extraction of liquid water. All water on Mars is currently frozen beneath the surface, let us show you how we could mine it and melt it for use in the garden! 

Mars is cold but plants need warmer temperatures, let us show you how we will insulate the ground and design a heating system to keep the ecosystem warm! 

Plants such as asparagus, potatoes and marigolds have already been shown to grow in Mars-like soils, plus seeds of radish, alfalfa, and mung bean can sprout in the carbon dioxide atmosphere of Mars. What other vegetables and grains would you like to have on Mars? What flowering plants would we like to grow to make the habitat a peaceful and calming space to be in? 

The necessary gases to provide inflation of the habitat and to create a plant-breathable environment can be extracted from the Martian atmosphere. Carbon taken from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide can be used by plants through photosynthesis, producing oxygen to allow us to breathe without the need for space suits.

The Design

The concept behind this installation focuses on the possibility of gardening in outer space with our AstroGardening rover who is on a mission to start up a sustainable habitat for his future human companions. Visitors to the exhibit will enter the large dome-like greenhouse and walk through a beautiful Martian landscape filled with plants, vegetables and interactive spaces, before meeting the rover who is hard at work planting the latest batch of crops. This rover is essentially a gardening robot who is equipped with a variety of specialised tools for planting, caring for and harvesting plants on Mars.

The questions we are answering are:

(1) If we could garden on Mars – how would we do it? 

(2) What would the tools look like?  

(3) How would they need to be modified to suit Martian soil? 

(4) What other factors would come into play when designing for a foreign planet?

We will design and create:

1.  Tools specialised for gardening – e.g. anti-gravity watering can, brush to remove pesky dust, shakers to help with pollination.

2.  Martian irrigation systems - mining the ice to create liquid water

3.  Heating systems to keep the plants warm

4.  Planetary Protection features to protect help Mars from Earth life and keep it contained within the greenhouses

The Education

The main outcome of this installation is education. The type you do not even realise you are getting until it has already been planted (get it?!) in your mind! The best kind! Information will be provided throughout the exhibit on plaques, leaflets and a few other secret ways that covers the main questions below, however, we are sure you will all come up with many more:

1.  What is the environment like on Mars?

2.  What would humans need to live on Mars?

3.  Can we engineer new special plants that might be adapted to grow on Mars – what would they be like? What might they be called?

4.  What tools would we need to garden on Mars?

5.  Do we have the right to change Mars to suit us?

We have the designer....and the scientist.....and the rover! All we need is you! Please help us make this exhibit a reality, and we look forward to meeting you when it opens!

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

This project is a work in progress built on years of experience in both our fields! We are 100% confident in our ability to put this exhibit together. Our only constraint will be the availability of the venues and the time taken to move the exhibit between them. We are confident this won't be a problem....but just incase we will state it now :o)

FAQ

  • Theoretically yes! The dome/habitat would be a sealed unit just anchored into the regolith so we would minimise the contamination of Mars from Earth plants and organisms. Any life that might exist already on Mars in the ground beneath the dome might be affected, however, due to the protection from the environment the dome offers...who knows what might start to grow underneath! Planetary protection is a very important topic and something everyone visiting Mars needs to be aware of and respect.

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  • Great Question! We do not need to have bees (although I think that would be awesome!). Both for Mars and the exhibit itself this would not be practical. It turns out that around mid morning when flowers are fully open, a system could be designed to tap or shake the growing plants to ensure self-pollination. Self-fertile plants maybe the best kind to plant, such as tomatoes! Interestingly, the flowers of soybeans open and remain receptive to insect cross pollination during the day but if this is not accomplished, the flowers self-pollinate as they are closing. This type of pollination in practice may not always work as well as on Earth, but is definitely something that needs to be considered and designed for.

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    Every little helps! If you pledge £5, you’ll receive your very own astro-postcard from Mars! One of a limited edition design by Vanessa and written to you from our very own gardener Rover.

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    “Seed pills” to plant your own Mars garden

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    Rover T-shirt and acknowledgement in the Exhibit

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    “Seed pills,” a Rover T-shirt and acknowledgement in the Exhibit

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    A beautiful photo-filled book on the installation and space design written by us! Louisa on the science behind Mars and space gardening, and Vanessa on the design. Thank you xx

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    Signed copy by us of the book that will document the installation, design process and science behind AstroGardening! We are really excited to write this so we hope you all love it!

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    The book and acknowledgement in the book

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    Signed copy by us of the book that will document the installation, design process and science behind AstroGardening! You will be acknowledged in the book plus will receive everything up to this point! Thank you so much!

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