POLARIS A CLOSER “FIRST CROSSER”

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JRASC October 2004 - The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

But what kind of plants? The bestcrop to grow is one that has small hardyseeds, a short germination period, enjoyslow light levels, is easily pollinated, andhas a high yield of food energy. Ideallythe crop should grow well in a wide varietyof soil types and have modest requirementsfor water. Tomatoes are well on their wayto filling the bill. And to encourage interestamong young people in this research,there is Tomatosphere.Tomatosphere is an experiment,overseen by Dr. Dixon, where studentsacross Canada germinate seeds from threesources, one experimental and two controls,and report their results via the Internet.The originally experimental seeds wereflown aboard the Space Shuttle courtesyof Marc Garneau. Current experimentalseeds have been treated by exposure tosimulated Martian conditions. One placewhere severe conditions may be createdat will is at CESRF where such variablesas lighting, temperature, and air pressurecan be manipulated. Future experimentsmay be conducted on the half millionseeds presently on the International SpaceStation.Dr. Dixon is also involved in theHaughton Mars Project that involves agreenhouse, containing many species offood plants, built on Canada’s DevonIsland. Onsite researchers monitor internalenvironmental conditions and plantgrowth in July and August, and remotelyat other times. Except for a short periodin June, the intensity of sunlight on theisland never exceeds that found on Mars(it is actually similar to what one wouldexperience on the Martian equator). Howmust the greenhouse environment bemanipulated to grow food crops, such astomatoes, in a Mars-like environment onEarth? What accommodations will beneeded to do something similar on Marsitself? Dr. Dixon would love to see in thenear future a miniature growth chambersent to Mars on a robotic spacecraft. Soilwould be dug up, seeds planted, and theresults monitored as Earth-bound scientistsmanipulate the growing conditions.Not all of CESRF’s research is directedat Mars; there are terrestrial applicationsas well. The development of efficientlighting, shade-tolerant plants, nutrientrecycling sensors, etc. can all be appliedto greenhouses on Earth and mayrevolutionize that industry. Plants andmicroorganisms are being developed toclean the air in enclosed environmentsother than spacecraft, such as officebuildings. For example, a “breathing wall,”a very large, indoor tropical garden actingas a biological air filter, is located atHumber College in Toronto: it is fourstories high! Dr. Dixon believes that byputting huge technological challenges(e.g. growing plants on Mars) in front ofCanadians, there is a large trickle-downeffect that will benefit people across thecountry and around the world.On the first piloted mission to Marsthere will be, of course, pilots, engineers,geologists, and the like. If Dr. Dixon hashis way, there will also be a horticulturalmission specialist. And he or she will havestudied in his labs in Guelph.Philip Mozel is a past National Librarian ofthe Society and was the Producer/Educatorat the McLaughlin Planetarium. He is currentlyan educator at the Ontario Science Centre.ARE YOU MOVING? IS YOUR ADDRESS INCORRECT?If you are planning to move, or your address is incorrect on the label ofyour Journal, please contact the National Office immediately:(888) 924-7272 (in Canada)(416) 924-7973 (outside Canada)email: nationaloffice@rasc.caBy changing your address in advance, you will continue to receive allissues of the Journal and SkyNews.208JRASC October / octobre 2004

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