When NASA announced Monday it had uncovered the strongest evidence for flowing water on Mars, most of the collective attention (rightfully) centered on the increasing odds of also finding signs of life. After all, water is one of life’s most important building blocks so if NASA continues to “follow the water,” as John Grunsfeld put it Monday, chances are extremely likely the Red Planet has the capability to sustain living things. However, it was something else Grunsfeld said which is arguably just as important as finding life. In a response to a telephoned media question, Grunsfeld acknowledged the presence of water ultimately allows future astronaut missions to grow living, sustainable crops. Mark Watney just gasped.
After fielding the question about whether Mars could sustain Earth crops, Grunsfeld was quick to point out the planet’s relative altitude — three times the height of Mount Everest — would desiccate any living crops planted on its surface. He did, however, posit that future Martian astronauts would have the ability to construct small, inflatable greenhouses that would be highly pressurized. With the help of the planet’s apparent water, as well as the abundance of carbon dioxide for plant’s to create oxygen with, maintaining living crops on Mars isn’t as far fetched as this sentence would’ve sounded just last week.
“You’d have a challenge growing plants on the surface of Mars, even with some extreme genetic engineering,” said Grunsfeld, “but certainly you could build inflatable or small greenhouses with high pressure, and if there’s a lot of water on Mars you could then use that water to grow plants inside the greenhouse.”
While there remains many years of research and development before a team of astronauts actually makes the journey to Mars, NASA’s recent findings give it some revolutionary footing to work with. Grunsfeld stated earlier in the press conference he hoped an expedition to Mars would happen sooner rather than later and once it did, science would be at the forefront of the mission.
In light of NASA’s findings of water on Mars, he feels it’s even more critical to send planetary scientists and astrobiologists to the Red Planet to continue the agency’s search for life. With an apparent solution in the works for solving the riddle of cultivating and maintaining Martian resources, it seems likely Grunsfeld’s wish to get there quickly won’t be hard to fulfill.