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Life in space? Exhibit at Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago ponders the possibilities of life on Mars
Model of NASA's Curiosity. Located in the Museum's Lower Court east gallery, this full-scale, NASA-owned model of the Curiosity Rover, named Dusty, is one of only two in the world! J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry.

CHICAGO, IL.- Was there—or is there—alternate life in space? Could humans find a way to live in space one day?

These questions have plagued scientists for hundreds of years, ever since Earth was discovered to be one of countless planetary bodies. In reality, the search for life on Mars is not for the octopus-like Martians of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds but for microbes that would give us an indication that Mars ever supported life—even millions of years ago. And even though we first landed on the Moon in 1969, the idea of a Moon colony presents the issues of solar radiation, and lack of oxygen, power, sustenance and plentiful water.

Despite the challenges behind these complex questions, scientists have never stopped asking them and searching for possible answers. The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago’s new temporary exhibit, Life in Space?, examines the latest technology and research in the search for life on Mars and a colony on the Moon with a NASA model of the Curiosity Rover and a prototype for a lunar greenhouse. This exhibit is included in general admission.

Red Planet Rover
In the Museum’s Lower Court east gallery, MSI displays a full-scale, NASA-owned model of the Curiosity Rover from July 25 through September 30, 2012. The model, named Dusty, is a life-sized, six-wheeled robotic explorer modeled after the real Curiosity rover, a 7-foot-tall robot scientist on wheels that landed on the Red Planet. MSI is one of only two institutions in the world selected by NASA to host a full-scale model of the rover during the landing. The Curiosity rover, bigger than a small car, is the largest robotic scout sent to shed light on the question: Did Mars ever harbor life?

Curiosity carries many advanced tools including a drill, cameras, and a rock-vaporizing laser, which are designed to collect information and samples to help us learn about the geology, atmosphere and environmental conditions on Mars—as well as seek out potential evidence of life, or small microbes, on the Red Planet.

Videos in the exhibit show the precision engineering and luck it takes to land a rover successfully. Only about one in three landing craft make it to the surface of Mars successfully.

Rock and mineral samples, similar to what may be found on Mars, also are displayed. Guests learn more about Mars, the evolution of NASA rovers and what scientists look for when choosing Martian landing sites.

The Lunar Greenhouse
In the west gallery, guests can marvel at the Lunar Greenhouse, a device that one day could help make a colony on the Moon possible.

The University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center (CEAC), with the support of many organizations—particularly NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Science—led a team to create this prototype of a self-contained, automated environment, which has the potential to provide water, oxygen and one-half of the daily amount of food for one astronaut to survive. Approximately 18-by-7 feet, the cylindrical Lunar Greenhouse is full of plant life that grows using hydroponics (in nutrient-rich water, without soil) giving guests the opportunity to visualize first-hand how humans might be able to grow food on the Moon.

Within the gallery, a video shows how the futuristic contraption might land on the Moon in advance of astronauts and deploy automatically. Lunar robots would bury the greenhouse under the surface to protect it from harsh solar radiation. With the seeds already in place, engineers on Earth could remotely turn on lights and water, and within one month, the first lettuce crop could be ready to eat. Water to initially grow plants could come from frozen deposits found on the Moon and then later, once astronauts arrived on the Moon, from human urine. Water would be continually recycled for drinking, as well as crop production. The plants would clean the air, as well as the water, and supply the oxygen that astronauts need to breathe—a portable model of the bio-regenerative life support system that is on Earth.

The exhibit also touches upon how greenhouse production works in very harsh conditions, like the South Pole, where resources are scarce. All closely contained and urban agriculture, especially as our planet’s population increases in cities, can benefit from the work and discoveries of the Lunar Greenhouse. The Lunar Greenhouse will be on display through Jan. 27, 2013.

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