The UAE, a country where millions live off desalinated ocean water, says its next survival challenge will be figuring out how to grow fruits and vegetables on the surface of Mars. Obscene amounts of money are being invested by its space agency on a massive facility where they’ll use their desert mastery to cultivate lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, and dates in their own backyard — which, they’ve realized, isn’t so different from Mars. The plan was announced at this week’s Dubai Airshow, where officials posed the very legitimate question of who, besides them, the space industry could trust to potentially blow millions on a big Matt Damon Martian lab?
In its pitch, the UAE Space Agency explained the similarities “between Mars and the desert,” adding $5.5 billion has been funneled into the nation’s colonization program to date. Construction on the desert facility — called Mars Science City, near Dubai — has already begun, and it constitutes one of Earth’s biggest interplanetary projects. Almost 2 million square feet, it’s expected to cost around $150 million, and is literally supposed to simulate being inside a Mars colony. Researchers will live under a series of domes that also house laboratories devoted to agriculture (among other things). Officials say they picked lettuce and those two fruits because scientists have already established those types of produce might work on the Red Planet, and then there’s the date palm “for its symbolic links with the region.”
The whole thing is “epic” and a “very big” commitment of time and resources, the UAE admits, and also “may never happen.” But its space agency has the right attitude for an organization that’s already dropped 10 figures trying to put people on Mars. “When we get there,” it says, “we’ll have to eat.”