Charles Darwin and Mars? Where's the connection? The BBC's Howard Falcon-Lang,
talking to ecologist Dave Wilkinson, says it lies in a little-known
experiment on an island in the South Atlantic. Darwin apparently came
across Ascension Island, a desolate mound of volcanic ash, in 1836. He
thought it would be a great site on which to create a "Little
England"--an entirely artificial ecosystem. Coincidentally, the Royal
Navy also used the island as a "strategic base," but had difficulty
procuring fresh water. Thus began, in 1847, a joint enterprise of
Darwin's botanist friend Joseph Hooker, the navy, and the Royal Botanic
Gardens at Kew:
The reason modern ecologist Dave Wilkinson finds this "really exciting" is that these 19th-century folks essentially created their own habitable ecosystem:
The idea was breathtakingly simple. Trees would capture more rain, reduce evaporation and create rich, loamy soils. The "cinder" would become a garden.So, beginning in 1850 and continuing year after year, ships started to come. Each deposited a motley assortment of plants from botanical gardens in Europe, South Africa and Argentina.
Wilkinson thinks that the principles that emerge from that experiment could be used to transform future colonies on Mars. ... "It's a terrible waste that no-one is studying it," remarked Wilkinson at the end of the interview.