Setting up colonies on Mars in future is probably one of the goals of US space agency NASA and one of the primary requirements for survival on the barren Red planet is to grow food right there in Martian soil. To realise this, NASA is currently testing out various plants to pick the best plants that may be eventually grown on Mars.
Packing and taking enough food along during manned mission to Mars isn’t a viable option. The best solution would be to grow plants on Mars that would help our astronauts survive on the Red Planet. NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre and the Florida Tech Buzz Aldrin Space Institute are using simulated ‘Martian gardens’ to find a solution to this food problem. The experiment allows astronauts to garden in space and conduct experiments on plant biology on the International Space Station (ISS).
Martian soil isn’t anything like that on Earth and according to analysis by Curiosity NASA scientists have determined that the soil on Mars is crushed volcanic rock with no organic material, making it nearly impossible for plant life to survive. This makes farming much more difficult and different from what we are used to on Earth.
“We are using advances in science to learn about increasing plant production to supplement astronauts’ diets,” said Trent Smith, project manager for the Vegetable Production System (Veggie) experiment at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre.
While we do not have Martian soil with us, there was a need to get hold of the right kind of soil to simulate ‘Martian gardens’. For the purpose researchers selected soil from Hawaii because it simulates the kind of soil that is likely to be found on Mars. The researchers used this Hawaiian soil to test how much soil should be used, and which nutrients should be added to the soil, for the various crops to achieve optimal growth.
Researchers have been able to determine that lettuce is one of the best plants that can grow in Mars-like soil simulant with no added nutrients. Further, it tasted the same, but there were issues such as the plants had weaker roots and a slower germination rate. These issues effectively help us understand how the timelines involved in Martian farming differ from growth times on Earth.
Some of the plants they may try to grow during the nine-month test include radishes, Swiss chard, kale, Chinese cabbage, snow peas, dwarf peppers and tomatoes — all nutritious foods and, more importantly, all tested and selected menu items for astronauts.