Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

What Kinds of Vegetables Can We Grow on Mars?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

What Kinds of Vegetables Can We Grow on Mars?

Article excerpt

With Elon Musk and NASA planning to send humans to Mars in the next 10-15 years, food scientists have taken on another step of the planning process: figuring out what astronauts will eat on the Red Planet.

Such a journey may take up to two and a half years, presenting a challenge when it comes to packing enough food to last the whole trip. In order to supplement their food supply, the astronauts may need to grow their own crops from seeds.

To simulate a gardening experience on the Red Planet, researchers at NASA's Kennedy Space Center and the Florida Tech Buzz Aldrin Space Institute have begun to experiment with "Martian gardens," using soil from Hawaii similar to the type of soil found on Mars. Martian soil is made up of crushed volcanic rock and contains no organic material, making plant survival significantly more difficult.

"Soil, by definition, contains organics; it has held plant life, insects, worms. Mars doesn't really have soil," said Ralph Fritsche, the senior project manager for food production at Kennedy Space Center, in a news release.

To gauge how much soil should be used and which nutrients should be added, researchers grew lettuce in three different types of soil: virtual Martian soil with no nutrients added, virtual Martian soil with nutrients added, and regular potting soil. They reported that the lettuce grown in the Mars-like soil with no nutrients added tasted the same, but had weaker roots and took longer to grow.

Next, they plan to conduct similar experiments with radishes, Swiss chard, kale, Chinese cabbage, snow peas, dwarf peppers and tomatoes.

In 2015, NASA astronauts on the International Space Station ate space-grown lettuce for the first time. The lettuce took 33 days to grow on the space station and was part of NASA efforts to provide future astronauts with a sustainable food supplement during long space voyages. …

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