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What would it take for humans to live on Mars? The first step is to successfully get people to the red planet, of course. Once there, the astronauts would face a task that could be even more difficult: figuring out how to survive in an environment that is vastly different from Earth's. A new study demonstrates one of the challenges -- Earth's plants don’t grow as well when exposed to the level of radiation expected on Mars.

Wieger Wamelink, an ecologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands who describes himself as a space farmer, has been frustrated by sci-fi depictions of growing plants on Mars. "What you often see is that they do it in a greenhouse," he said, "but that doesn't block the cosmic radiation," which consists of high-energy particles that may alter the plants' DNA. Mars lacks the same degree of protection from cosmic radiation that the Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field provide. To prove his suspicion that cosmic radiation could be dangerous to plants, Wamelink decided to test the hypothesis himself.

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