Students win NASA contest with a greenhouse designed for Mars

Greek students have attempted to take one step forward in the quest to make Mars more hospitable: They created a self-supporting greenhouse that grows spinach and is brilliantly named Popeye. This May, the students' design won NASA's International Space Apps Challenge, a competition over the course of 48 hours in cities across the world. Its goal is to produce open-source solutions to address various needs for life on Earth and in space.

In the designs, the greenhouse is comprised of a solar-powered system enclosed in a protective dome. It's supposed to grow spinach over a 45-day period to supply potential astronauts on Mars with food.

According to Reuters, the greenhouse's air garden is equipped with a "suite of solar-powered sensors and electrical systems" that nurture and monitor the spinach by providing plenty of water and carbon dioxide.

The Red Planet isn't exactly known for its welcoming nature. Its harsh environment makes it difficult to protect vegetation, and its conditions are drastically different from those on Earth, with temperatures usually hovering around minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and an atmosphere roughly 100 times less dense than Earth's.

As seen in the video above, the greenhouse's protective dome aims to combat this challenging atmosphere. It allows sunlight while offering isolation from the planet's harsher climate. The enclosed system also "reproduces the conditions needed for photosynthesis" while operating autonomously, per Reuters.

Although the reality of agriculture on Mars may be decades away, innovations like Popeye help to lead us in the right direction.


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