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A Kent-based farmer is working with NASA to develop strawberries that could make it to Mars. The space agency is looking for something astronauts could grow on the two-year flight to the Red Planet, and that could also be cultivated on Mars itself.

Peter Vinson, the Faversham, Kent strawberry baron, sent two of his strawberry breeds to NASA for tests after a friend recommended him to researchers there. The scientists need a plant that will be able to withstand the harsh environment of space, and that will produce plenty of fruit for a long time.

Growing anything on Mars is certainly going to be a challenge. Once on the surface, the plant will have to manage with about one third of the sunlight it would get on Earth, and a higher proportion of that will be ultraviolet light. Blue light, needed for photosynthesis, is more readily absorbed by the Martian atmosphere.

NASA scientists are keen to use an English breed because it will be more accustomed to low light levels than those from California or Florida. If the breeds do well in a simulation at Cape Canaveral, they will move on to trials on board a manned space station before use in the mission to Mars, penciled in for 2020.

Hilariously, the fruit has already been nicknamed the 'Marsberry'. ®

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