About Youth Concern Greek History My Work Feedback-Comments Links

The Experiment of Santorini: Life to Mars from a Greek Island

by Spiros Tzelepis

How 5 high school students got involved in ambitious project: creating conditions appropriate for life on Mars


An international project of great scientific importance has been in progress since 1997 aiming to create life on Mars. More specifically, scientists believe that if they manage to move to Mars iron bacteria found in Santorini -a very famous Greek island- they will create appropriate conditions for the survival of living beings there. Mars' atmosphere consists of 5% oxygen while the same percentage in Earth's atmosphere is 21%. By transferring iron bacteria to Mars this percentage will be increased due to bacteria's property to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) and release oxygen.

This is the aim of a long-term project launched three years ago which has three phases:

  1. A one-year study of the bacteria in their natural environment which has already finished.
  2. The development of iron bacteria in the laboratories of Aristoteles University of Thessaloniki, Greece.
  3. The transfer of the iron bacteria to Mars in the first manned spacecraft to Mars probably in 2004.

The history of the project

The American geologist Eleonora Robbins (USA Geological Survey Affiliation) tried to contact other scientists through the Internet in order to get information about iron bacteria. A Greek Professor of Astrophysics Medicine in Aristoteles University of Thessaloniki, Chrisoula Kourtidou, responded to her request informing her that the iron bacteria she was looking for exist in large quantities in Santorini's volcano area. Eleonora Robbins came to Greece, visited Santorini in order to study the bacteria in their physical environment and Chrisoula Kourtidou started the project of creating atmosphere on Mars. This is how an international scientific collaboration started.

Iron Bacteria in the volcano area, Santorini

Information about Santorini's volcano.

Santorini is one of the most cosmopolitan Greek islands, and it is very attractive to every tourist, native and foreigner. What makes Santorini unique is its long history and its volcano. It is believed that the eruption of the volcano took place in 1628 BC, and its consequences were dramatic. One of the most serious and immediate effects was the destruction of the Minoan civilization in Crete. After the eruption the largest part of the island sunk in the Aegean Sea. The remaining part is what today is called Thira, Thirasia and Aspronisi. Among these parts of land there is what natives call the "lake", the sea area which covers the world's biggest volcano crater (83km2). In this area there are two new volcanoes, New and Old Kameni. There, the water is very hot and has a red colour. In this area, there are plenty of iron bacteria, those that Eleonora Robbins was looking for.

The red water in the volcano area, Santorini, where the iron bacteria exist

How the children got involved

When the two scientists came to Santorini they were both very excited, but on the other hand they faced a problem; they could not stay in Santorini for a whole year studying the bacteria. It was then that adults realized how helpful children can be if they are given certain responsibilities. Gerasimina Kafourou, the principal of Santorini's high school got involved in this effort and a scientific educational project was initiated.

Eleonora Robbins and the young researchers before the beginning of their journey to the volcano crater

High school students would be responsible for sending to NASA monthly samples for study. Five children, Anna Damigou-17, Manolis Renieris-18, Michalis Renieris-17, Theoni Kafieri-18, and Nickolas Petropoulos-18, became part of the project. Each month they had to collect samples of the bacteria in test tubes, to measure the temperature of the water where the bacteria were found, to measure the water's PH and write a report to NASA along with notices about the circumstances and the weather under which the bacteria had been collected.

Test tubes filled with iron bacteria at Santorini's high school chemistry lab

On the whole the children learned to be responsible, to work as a team, to face and solve a variety of problems during the implementation of the experiment (bad weather conditions as it is windy in the winter, unpredictable obstacles, the cost of their trip to volcano area). They overcame all these and they proved to everybody the children's capabilities.

Most importantly, due to their contribution, Greece was elected by NASA among 23 other countries as the place to host the 13th Convention "Man in Space" which was held in Santorini between 20-26 May 2000. The Convention was supported by the first department of Physiology and Space Research, NASA.

Photos Credit: Pan. Matiatos (Santorini)

This article was made possible due to help of Mrs. Kafourou who very eagerly responded to my request for information about the experiment.

Back to Various Topics

Reconstruction: July-August-September 2002

© Copyright 2002 Spiros Tzelepis
No part of this website is to be used or reproduced by any means without the written permission of the creator