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China plans astro-farms on Mars

Researches sustainable ecosystem to provide air, water and food

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A leading light of China’s rapidly accelerating space program has hinted that the country’s taikonauts could in time be able to grow their own food and generate oxygen from plants in bases on the Moon or Mars.

Deng Yibing, deputy director of the Beijing-based Chinese Astronaut Research and Training Center, told state-run Xinhua that research is already being carried out in a closed cabin dubbed the controlled ecological life support system (CELSS).

CELSS will in time be used in extra-terrestrial bases, with the aim being to use plants as source of sustainable supplies of air, water and food rather than having to rely on schlepping supplies into orbit.

Deng told the news service that the 300 cubic metre cabin was used successfully in a just-completed experiment to provide sustainable supplies of air, water and food for two people.

Four kinds of veg were grown, all converting carbon dioxide in the sealed cabin into oxygen and providing food for the intrepid duo.

Propelled by deep government pockets, China’s space plans are moving at some pace now with a lunar rover set to land next year and a manned expedition to follow after 2017.

Chinese scientists have also been using the country’s frequent trips into the heavens to research the effects of high energy cosmic radiation and zero gravity on farming.

Botanical boffins have apparently produced over 120 new varieties over the past 25 years by mutating regular seeds in space.

Astro-capsicum Hangjiao-5, for example, was grown from seeds mutated during the 2002 Shenzhou III mission, and is on sale across the People's Republic. ®

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