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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 1, Sur One, Sol 22 (1.1.22)  5:33 PM NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  25 January 2016  2:00 PM PST

Most of us take plants for granted. Earth’s supply of plants seems inexhaustible, and if you garden, you might believe that some plants (weeds, in particular,) cannot be killed.

However, plants and humans have a bond that cannot be severed. Plants provide food, remove carbon dioxide, and most importantly, they produce oxygen. Humans cannot live without plants.

Sending humans to Mars presents a difficult challenge in that relationship as the demands of plants for light, water, and care is high. At the same time, their output of oxygen and food is minimal in small environments. This is why most human environments in space have used chemical reactions to remove carbon and produce oxygen and water.

Since plants can’t replace more efficient chemical processes in space travel, the botanist challenge is to compete with the chemical processes, and the Botany Division of ESEP has taken on that challenge.

Carbon taken from the air is the source of all plant growth. Faster growing plants absorb more carbon.

Carbon taken from the air is the source of all plant growth. Faster growing plants absorb more carbon.

Our ships rely primarily on chemical processes to create oxygen and to remove carbon; however, air is circulated through the botanical sections to give plants the first opportunity to remove carbon from the air. In addition, plants are part of every inhabited section of the ship, including all crew quarters.

Mostly bamboo plants are used outside of the botanical areas and they are automatically maintained by a computer program that senses soil moisture and analyzes soil content. When the bamboo plants reach a certain height, a member of the Botany team harvests the wood, stows it, and replants a seedling. The wood will be processed on Mars at the first extraterrestrial woodworking shop.

Botanists cannot yet replace the need to produce oxygen through chemical reaction, but their priority is to make humans less dependent on the chemical process to produce breathable air by incorporating natural, biologic sources of oxygen into the human environment.