Growing lettuce for Mars, Arctic style

by Dr. Alain Berinstain, Director, Space Astronomy and Planetary Exploration, CSA

Photo of Mr. Berinstain in front of the greenhouse

Alain Berinstain (Credit: CSA)

Photo of the Arthur-Clarke Greenhouse

The Arthur-Clarke Greenhouse (Credit: CSA)

2005 Expedition

Dr. Alain Berinstain is Director of Planetary Exploration and Space Astronomy Program and has been with the CSA since 1997. He has a degree in Chemistry from Concordia University, a Master of Space Studies from the International Space University in Strasbourg, France, and a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Ottawa.

A report on the Devon Island Field Season, July 8 to 28, 2005

The 2005 field season on Devon Island has been the smoothest since the start of the Arthur Clarke Mars Greenhouse project in 2002. This year, the level of CSA activities in the Arctic warranted the chartering of an aircraft to carry staff and equipment to Resolute Bay. All our people and cargo made it to Resolute with no incident. A great start!

A work in progress

In December 2004, CSA headquarters in Saint-Hubert had lost remote communications with the greenhouse. As suspected, two DC converters feeding 12-volt power lines had malfunctioned, causing the communications system and the main data-acquisition computer to fail. Very few electronic components are designed to operate under such harsh conditions. This is why a Mars analog environment in the high Arctic is so useful to test equipment and processes.

Our goal this year is to increase reliability so the system functions one full year without failure. We increased the power storage capacity by a factor of three because last year's telemetry data showed we were not storing all the solar and wind energy generated at the station.

Photo of Resolute Bay

This picture of Resolute Bay taken with an orange filter enhances similarities to the Martian landscape. (Credit: CSA)

Photo of solar panels

The solar panels for the greenhouse. (Credit: CSA)

To free some space in the greenhouse, the batteries have been moved outside to a protective enclosure. We also created redundancy with a relay box that switches to a secondary power line in case of failure. This might have prevented last winter's unexpected shutdown.

In the past, we have grown only lettuce as a test crop. We diversified this year, adding radish, a much faster growing vegetable, as well as zucchini, which has larger leaves that are more readily seen through the cameras.

Photo of radish trays

Typical plant trays—in this case, for growing radishes. (Credit: CSA)

Photo of trays

Trays used to grow diverse plants. (Credit: CSA)

Photo of the Canadian exploration team

The Canadian exploration team. From left to right, standing: Tom Graham (University of Guelph), Richard Léveillé (CSA), Marc Boucher (Mars Institute), Gordon Osinski (CSA), Richard Giroux (CSA). On the ground: Stephen Braham (Simon Fraser University), John Ferris, Alain Berinstain (CSA), Jean-Marc Comtois (CSA), Matt Bamsey (CSA). (Credit: CSA)

This year's greenhouse team included Richard Giroux, a Visiting Fellow at the CSA, Matthew Bamsey and Raymond Yep, CSA summer interns, Thomas Graham of the University of Guelph, Marc Boucher of SpaceRef Interactive, Pascal Lee of the Mars Institute, and Stephen Braham of Simon Fraser University.

The Arthur Clarke Mars Greenhouse was donated by SpaceRef Interactive to the Haughton-Mars Project in 2002. The experiment aims to develop a robust, autonomous greenhouse for growing plants as potential food crops as though it were part of a base on Mars.

The Haughton-Mars Project Arthur Clarke Mars Greenhouse was donated by SpaceRef Interactive, Inc. and established at the project's Base Camp (now Haughton-Mars Project Research Station) with initial sponsorship support from NASA. The greenhouse facility is currently managed and operated by the Mars Institute, in partnership with the SETI Institute and Simon Fraser University. Dr. Alain Berinstain of the CSA and the University of Guelph is the current Principal Investigator in the Arthur Clarke Mars Greenhouse. The ongoing investigation is supported by the CSA, the University of Guelph, Simon Fraser University, and the SETI Institute.