Arthur Clarke Mars Greenhouse (ACMG): Frequently Asked Questions

SpaceRef's Arthur Clarke Mars GreenhouseIn July 2002 SpaceRef Interactive installed a greenhouse (the Arthur Clarke Mars Greenhouse) on Devon Island as a contribution to the NASA-SETI Institute Haughton Mars Project (HMP). The greenhouse is dedicated to noted author Sir Arthur C. Clarke. The ACMG is intended to further the biological science and life support technology required to eventually support humans on Mars.

What follows is an overview of why we have decided to pursue this project, what we hope it will accomplish, and the people and organizations that have joined together to make it happen.

  1. Why are we building a greenhouse on Devon Island?
  2. What is the Haughton-Mars Project?
  3. What will the greenhouse look like?
  4. Is this what a greenhouse on Mars might look like?
  5. Where did the name "Arthur Clarke Mars Greenhouse" come from?
  6. Who is providing the funds and resources to build the greenhouse?
  7. What kind of sunlight is available on Devon Island - and how will the greenhouse use it?
  8. How will the greenhouse get to Devon Island?
  9. How will the greenhouse be assembled on Devon Island?
  10. What sort of research will be performed inside the greenhouse?
  11. How will the greenhouse project be managed?
  12. How will research projects be reviewed and selected?
  13. What is SpaceRef Interactive?
  14. What is the SETI Institute?

1. Why are we building a greenhouse on Devon Island?

Nearly every mission scenario for the human exploration of Mars developed the past several decades includes a biological component in its life support system. This is usually in the form of a greenhouse and associated bioregenerative systems. The Arthur Clarke Mars Greenhouse (ACMG) is not intended to be a full-featured, high-fidelity simulation of a greenhouse to be established on Mars. Rather, as is the case of most analog studies being conducted on Devon Island, the ACMG will support scientific and operations research in an operational setting that is relevant in unique ways to Mars - each at a specific level of fidelity and complexity.

The intent is that this ACMG will serve as an initial experimental field-deployed testbed that will support field research of inherent and immediate value, and from which lessons may be learned to support the design and implementation of future field facilities enabling higher fidelity demonstrations. Ultimately, through a sequential and iterative program of experimentation, it is hoped that a better understanding of the operational challenges faced by future astronauts on the surface of Mars (or other planetary bodies) will be gained. Indeed, we'd like to see the ACMG serve as a trail blazer for more sophisticated, high fidelity Mars greenhouse concepts to be deployed on Devon Island (and elsewhere).

2. What is the Haughton-Mars Project?

The NASA Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) (http://www.marsonearth.org) is an international interdisciplinary field research project centered on the scientific study of the Haughton impact crater and surrounding terrain, Devon Island, Nunavut, Arctic Canada, viewed as a possible Mars analog. The rocky polar desert setting, geologic features and biological attributes of the site offers unique insights into the evolution of Mars, the effects of impacts on Earth and other planets, and the possibilities of life in extreme environments. The opportunity of scientific field studies at Haughton is also used to support studies in exploration research, to investigate the technologies, strategies, humans factors and hardware designs relevant to the future exploration of Mars and other planetary bodies by robots and humans. HMP-2002 will be the 6th field season of the HMP. The HMP is managed by the SETI Institute at the Institute's Center for the Study of Life in the Universe.

3. What will the greenhouse look like?

The ACMG is derived from a standard, commercially available greenhouse with some special modifications. It has been manufactured with support beams at 4 foot centers (as opposed to the commercial version which has 6 foot centers) so as to provide a stronger structure. The ACMG framework is composted of galvanized steel reinforced with internal aircraft cable cross-bracing. The ACMG is covered with 6mm Lexan. The Lexan is rated to repeatedly withstand 70 mph loads and not discolor due to solar exposure for at least 10 years.

The greenhouse itself is 12 feet wide, 24 feet long, and 10 feet high at its apex. A special support platform sits atop several dozen footers (placed directly on the ground), so as to provide a footing for the ACMG, provide some insulation from the cold permafrost below, and to provide a firm year-round anchor to the ground below. To make certain that the entire structure (which weights approximately 2 tons empty) will stay put, a dozen or so anchors have been placed more than a meter down into the ground. A dozen aircraft cable anchors are attached to both the ACMG and the support platform.

Next year, inside the ACMG, an airlock will be constructed so as to reduce the entrance of cold air and the exit of warm air. At the rear of the ACMG a 'back porch' 4 foot deep is provided to support future hardware. The front end of the ACMG has a 'front porch" of similar dimensions.

4. Is this what a greenhouse on Mars might look like?

Probably not. The structure being deployed as the ACMG on Devon Island was chosen for its strength, ease of modification, and familiarity of operations. Earth has weather - and the ACMG reflects this fact. That does not mean that this structure cannot be used to gain a deeper understand of what it would take to operate a greenhouse in a remote, hostile location such as Mars. There are a variety of concepts proposed for greenhouses on Mars. Some concepts use inflatable structures. Others use rigid skeletons. Some use both. Others involve burying growth chambers underground and them "pumping" light down from the surface via solar collectors. A more detailed discussion of putting a greenhouse on Mars can be found in "Greenhouses for a Red Planet".

5. Where did the name "Arthur Clarke Mars Greenhouse" come from?

The inspiration for naming the greenhouse after noted author Sir Arthur C. Clarke came from both of SpaceRef's founders - Marc Boucher and Keith Cowing. Both Keith and Marc have been long time fans of Sir Arthur's writing and felt that many of the prophetic visions penned by Sir Arthur helped motivate many of the participants in research being done on Devon Island. As such, Marc and Keith felt that this dedication would be a fitting testimonial to a long career of inspiring others.

6. Who is providing the funds and resources to build the greenhouse?

SpaceRef Interactive Inc. is paying for the procurement of the ACMG and all associated support materials. SpaceRef Interactive is also donating the personnel (travel, supplies etc.) to assemble the ACMG - although substantial assistance has been provided by HMP team members - most notably HMP Camp Carpenter A.C. Hitch. The ACMG itself has been donated and deeded to the SETI Institute. SpaceRef will continue to provide support for the operation and enhancement of the ACMG in years to come.

7. What kind of sunlight is available on Devon Island - and how will the greenhouse use it?

At Devon Island's latitude on Earth, 75 degrees North , the Sun's maximum elevation above the horizon is 38 degrees. The sun reaches its zenith in June at the summer solstice. The sun is constantly above the horizon from mid-April to mid-August and is completely below the horizon from late October until early April. The ACMG will be oriented to take maximize the available light during the field season as well as light available during a possible future extended field season. It is possible that artificial lighting may be utilized in the future to both augment existing natural light and to extend the length of the growing season.

[Click on either image to enlarge]

8. How will the greenhouse get to Devon Island?

The ACMG was transported from a staging site at NASA Ames Research Center/Moffett Field in California to Resolute Bay on Cornwallis Island, Nunavut by a U.S. Marine Corps C-130 in June 2002. The ACMG was carried along with other supplies for the Summer 2002 HMP field season. The USMC has been very supportive of the HMP in the past and has been able to leverage routine training flights with HMP logistics to the mutual advantage of both. The ACMG was offloaded and prepared for transport from Resolute Bay to the HMP base camp on Devon Island aboard several commercial Twin Otter transport aircraft.

9. How will the greenhouse be assembled on Devon Island?

The greenhouse was test assembled inside the large dirigible hangar at NASA Ames Research Center in April 2002. It was then disassembled and put in storage along with the materials required for its support structure. The greenhouse was delivered to Devon Island in early July and was assembled by SpaceRef and HMP personnel during the second and third weeks of July.

10. What sort of research will be performed inside the greenhouse?

The purpose of this greenhouse is to allow the growth, propagation and harvesting of selected plants in support of basic and applied research in the fields of astrobiology, space biology, life support systems studies, information technologies, and human factors investigations.

The ACMG will be deployed and equipped in two stages, the first in Summer 2002, the second in Summer 2003. The 2002 field season will be dedicated to installation and monitoring of the basic environmental characteristics of the greenhouse. Research operations involving selected plant growth would begin in 2003. The specific research programs for 2003 and beyond have not yet been established. Once the basic operational parameters of the ACMG are understood this science selection process will begin.

During 2002 the Centre for Research in Earth and Space Technology (CRESTECH) along with the University of Guelph will outfit the ACMG with a variety of sensors and computer monitoring hardware. This equipment will be deployed and operated by personnel from the University of Guelph and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) The main focus of this effort with be to calibrate the basic performance of the ACMG prior to the introduction of plants or experiments and to gauge what augmentation (heating, lighting etc.) may be required. To achieve this, a set of standard sensors (CO2, humidity, temperature, light) will be installed inside the ACMG. A weather station will also be deployed outside the greenhouse.

Together, this suite of sensors will provide the team with initial environmental data that will be used to create a model of the greenhouse environment to be used in subsequent stages of the project. This hardware will be in place for several weeks. To keep tabs on how the ACMG performs over winter, SpaceRef will deploy a pair of data loggers and sensors that will measure temperature (internal and external), pressure, and light levels. These data logger units are powered by long-life batteries and will have their measurements (taken daily) downloaded in 2003 In future years, this sensor array will be expanded to monitor all aspects of greenhouse operations. We eventually hope to have interactive, year-round monitoring of the ACMG.

11. How will the Greenhouse project be managed?

The NASA HMP Principal Investigator is Dr. Pascal Lee, a planetary scientist with the SETI Institute. He is based at NASA Ames Research Center. SpaceRef's Greenhouse Project Manager is Keith Cowing, President of SpaceRef Interactive, Inc., and former NASA space biologist and payload integration manager. Marc Boucher, CEO of SpaceRef, and HMP-2000 field season veteran, will support Cowing in all phases of ACMG design, deployment, and utilization. Once deployed, a science team under the auspices of the NASA HMP will oversee research in the ACMG.

12. How will research projects be reviewed and selected?

A Science Advisory Committee (SAC) has been formed by the HMP and SpaceRef to define the scientific focus and objectives of the Greenhouse project and to oversee the progress made in the research performed. The SAC is responsible in particular for defining the long-term research objectives to be achieved, for contributing to help secure the resources needed to achieve these research goals, and for overseeing the progress made towards the goals. The members are:

  • Daniel Barta, NASA Johnson Space Center
  • Alain Berinstain, University of Guelph/Canadian Space Agency
  • Marc Boucher, SpaceRef Interactive
  • Stephen Braham, Simon Fraser University
  • Charles Cockell, British Antarctic Survey
  • Keith Cowing, SpaceRef Interactive (co-chair)
  • Michael Dixon, University of Guelph
  • Donald Henninger, NASA Johnson Space Center
  • Mark Kliss, NASA Ames Research Center
  • Pascal Lee, SETI Institute/NASA Ames Research Center (co-chair)
  • Andrew Schuerger, NASA Kennedy Space Center
  • Kenneth Souza, NASA Ames Research Center (Ret.)
  • Raymond Wheeler, NASA Kennedy Space Center

13. What is SpaceRef Interactive?

SpaceRef Interactive Inc. ( http://www.spaceref.com ) is an international Internet content and database firm incorporated in the United States, specializing in scientific and technical websites with offices in Reston, Virginia USA, and Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Among SpaceRef's products are SpaceRef.com, SpaceRef.ca, MarsToday.com, and Astrobiology.com which provide a daily collection of news stories, press releases and status reports housed in the world's largest online searchable database of space news items; a directory of space-related websites; and a series of dedicated search engines for both broad and specialized areas of space research and exploration. SpaceRef also believes in giving something back to the audience and community that utilize its resources and has made a practice since its founding in 1999 of providing monetary, hardware, and personnel support to research efforts such as the Haughton-Mars Project. Further information about the greenhouse is available at http://research.spaceref.com

14. What is the SETI Institute?

The SETI Institute (http://www.seti.org) was incorporated as a 501 (c) (3) non-profit California corporation on November 20, 1984. The purpose of the Institute, as defined at that time and still true today, is to conduct scientific research and educational projects relevant to the origin, nature, prevalence, and distribution of life in the universe. This work includes two primary research areas: 1) SETI, and 2) Life in the Universe research. Concurrent with its research focus, the Institute strives to contribute to both formal and informal science education related to these fields of interest. Over its seventeen year history, the Institute has administered over $150 million of funded research.

Related Links

  • Arthur Clarke Mars Greenhouse, SpaceRef

    Related News

  • 12 June 2002: SpaceRef's Greenhouse is One Step Closer to Devon Island, SpaceRef

  • 10 June 2002: Mars on Earth: The NASA Haughton-Mars Project, SpaceRef

  • 2 June 2002: Earth on Mars: Greenhouses on the Red Planet, SpaceRef

  • 11 April 2002: Greenhouse for a Red Planet?, SETI Institute/SpaceRef Interactive


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