We recently received a fish and aquaponics set in one of our resupply shipments. Certainly having plants as part of a Mars mission is important. But animals? It seems difficult. Is having animals realistic of what a real mission would be like? I think so.
We need plants on long duration space missions for several reasons:
1. Resupplying food and water to astronauts very far away is extremely expensive. It’s best if they can reuse nutrients and grow their own food, at least part of the time.
2. It reduces the waste generated by the mission – no packaging, and the waste bits can be returned to the soil.
3. Psychological reasons – Caring for plants or other living things just makes the crew happier.
All of those reasons apply to animals as well. Animals, even more than plants, improve people’s moods. Within 2 days of having our fishy friend arrive, people were already hooked on the cutey. There would have been great sadness if we lost him in transit. Also, animals do complement the growth of plants, and help keep things clean. Often it’s the little guys – insects and microbes – that can help the most, but the fish can help keep the aquaponics water clean, many animals are scavengers that eat our waste and can turn it into something useful (say compost). And depending on the animal, and how we keep it, they can end up being food for us as well.
I really wanted to take chickens with us to Mars*, because that’s what all the great explorers and travellers did. And it’s still the best way for having fresh meat and eggs without a fridge. Unfortunately the sanitation side of things hasn’t been quite worked out, and we’re also in a park so brining in foreign animals is a no-no, but I’m still hopeful that NASA will figure out how to get animals into space at some point. And perhaps fish are a good first step.
As attached as we are to our new crew member, we haven’t actually named him yet. We’re calling on you to help us out here! Send us your ideas, and at the end of January we’ll post a short-list of the best ideas. Then we’ll do a vote for the favourite name. For schools, here’s a poster you can put up to let kids know how to enter their suggestions.
Looking forward to hearing from you!