When we send humans to Mars, one of the things that will be key, especially if we want to stay for long periods or even permanently, is the ability to be self-sustainable. One way this will be possible is by growing food on Mars, so new research showing that crops can grow in Martian soil could be – yes, we’re going to say it – one giant leaf for mankind.
The research was carried out by scientists from Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands. It was actually the second time they have grown crops in simulated Martian soil, but this time they mixed the soil with grass to aid the crop growth.
To mimic the chemistry of Martian soil, the researchers used Earth soil supplied by NASA from Hawaiian volcanoes, which is said to be similar in its composition. And the team found they were able to grow 10 types of crops – tomato, rye, radish, pea, leek, spinach, garden rocket, cress, quinoa, and chives – in the soil.
"[The research] shows that the Mars soil simulant has great potential when properly prepared and watered," said lead researcher Dr. Wieger Wamelink in a statement. Simulated soil from the Moon, made using Arizona desert soil, was about half as successful. Results from both sets of research have not been published yet.
It should be noted that significant quantities of heavy metals such as lead and arsenic made the fruits of these labors unsafe to eat. But the team is hoping to crowdfund a third experiment in April 2016, which you can donate to here, with the ultimate goal of making food that is edible.
As mentioned, being able to grow food on Mars could be hugely useful to future explorers; just ask Mark Watney in "The Martian." Last year on the International Space Station, astronauts successfully grew food and ate it for the first time, showing it is possible in microgravity. Whether we can build farms on Mars, though, is a different story.