Saturday, November 03, 2007

Should We Grow Lichen On Mars? Authentic NASA Toys and Replicas
(Image Credit: L. Sancho, via New Scientist Space)

Lichen, known for growing upon rocks, trees and run down buildings seems to be able to thrive in an hostile environment that would kill most (if not all) complex life forms.

(New Scientist Space) Once in Earth orbit, the lid of the container opened and the samples were exposed to the space environment for nearly 15 days before the lid resealed and the capsule returned to Earth.

The lichens were subjected to the vacuum of space and to temperatures ranging from -20°C on the night side of the Earth, to 20°C on the sunlit side. They were also exposed to glaring ultraviolet radiation of the Sun.

"To our big surprise, everything went fine after the flight," says Rene Demets, ESA's project scientist for the Foton project. "The lichens were in exactly the same shape as before flight."

In order to survive the hostilities of space, the lichens reverted to a dormant state until they were able to encounter more favorable conditions again. Ironically (according to the article), if it were not for the low levels of oxygen on Mars, lichen would probably be able to thrive on the red planet.

Although often referred to as a single creature, lichen is in reality two separate organisms (algae and fungi) that help each other survive in what many would consider to be hostile, bitter environments.

If scientists can figure out how to enhance the lichen genes and adapt them to Martian soil, we may be able to eventually grow crops on that red desert world.

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You can either visit the stars or watch them from afar.

But if you choose the former, you'll definitely get a better view.

~Darnell Clayton, 2007

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