Aug. 6 - A team of Greek university students has won an award from NASA for their design of an autonomous greenhouse to produce spinach on Mars. The concept is comprised of a solar powered system enclosed in a dome that nurtures and protects the leafy green vegetable as it grows. Ben Gruber reports.
Mars may be a desolate planet..but a team of Greek students believe they can bring a touch of green to the Red Planet. Their idea is called "Popeye on Mars". It's a self-supporting greenhouse, designed to supply visiting astronauts with that famously healthy vegetable - spinach. The enclosed system reproduces the conditions needed for photosynthesis, utilizing the sun's rays ..and according to Lydia Polyzou, will operate autonomously. (SOUNDBITE) (Greek) TEAM MEMBER AND ENGINEERING STUDENT LYDIA POLYZOU, SAYING: "The most important thing about this greenhouse is that human intervention is not required. Our aim was for it to get to Mars, land on its own, and then begin to work by itself for a whole spinach plant life cycle, which is around 40 to 45 days." The concept comprises an air garden equipped with a suite of solar powered sensors and electrical systems that nurture and monitor the spinach as it grows, providing water and carbon dioxide. The greenhouse will be shielded by an automated dome that allows sunlight in while protecting the spinach from the harsh Martian environment. According to Vangelis Chliaras, the system will be capable of harvesting both the spinach and the oxygen produced during its growth cycle. (SOUNDBITE) (Greek) TEAM MEMBER AND PHYSICS STUDENT VANGELIS CHLIARAS, SAYING: "We see Mars as the next frontier for mankind. Man is constantly exploring and seeking to discover new worlds but if you think about the history of space travel, man has just walked on the moon. We haven't gone any further. So we saw Mars as a new challenge for mankind." And NASA seems to agree. The US space agency awarded the "Popeye on Mars" team with a "Best Concept" prize in its Space Apps Challenge competition earlier this year..