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The Bulletin

China mulls vegetables on Mars

Posting in Environment

Move over New Jersey. Make way for the new Garden State.

Maybe it's time to change the name of our blog to SmartPlanets, given what China has in mind for Mars.

State news agency Xinhua is reporting that the country's astronauts could one day grow their own vegetables on the inhospitable Red Planet, as a way to provide them with both food and oxygen.

Taking a step in that direction, the Chinese Astronaut Research and Training Center has just concluded an experiment in which two astronauts lived inside a 300 cubic meter (10,594 cubic feet) cabin in Beijing, balancing supplies oxygen, carbon dioxide and water between them and four different vegetable plants.

The agency did not exactly issue a public cornucopia of findings. Instead, it focused on the long term goals.

"The cabin, a controlled ecological life support system (CELSS) built in 2011, is a model of China's third generation of astronaut's life support system, which is expected to be used in the extraterrestrial bases on the Moon or Mars," Xinhua wrote.

"A CELSS seeks to provide sustainable supplies of air, water and food for astronauts with the help of plants and algae, instead of relying on stocks of such basics deposited on board at the outset of the mission," it says. "Advance forms of CELSS also involve the breeding of animals for meat and using microbes to recycle wastes."

It's a long way from Beijing to the Gale crater. If you could plant a few peas up there, the distance would shrink at least a little.

But it will probably still be a long time before, say, a Martian melenzana might rival a Jersey tomato.

Image: NASA (Hubble Space Telescope) via Wikimedia.

— By on December 4, 2012, 1:03 AM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure