Researchers from the Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands have successfully grown ten different species of crops on their Mars and moon soil simulants. The harvested crops include peas, tomatoes, radish, rye, garden rocket, cress, quinoa, chives, pea and leek.
In April 2015, the researchers planted the crops in a glass house under constant humidity, temperature and light conditions. These were cultivated under earth atmosphere because the scientists expect that the crops on the Red Planet and the moon will be grown underground to shield them from the space radiation and the harsh environment.
The Mars soil simulant was taken from a Hawaiian volcano while the moon soil simulant was from a desert in Arizona. Both soil simulants were provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
This is the research team’s second experiment. Initially, they used small pots but this caused a few irrigation problems.
In their new experiment, they used trays and added fresh cut grass and manure to both soil simulants. This improved the crop growth, unlike in the first experiment, where most plants died.
The final harvest took place in October 2015. They observed that the biomass on the Mars soil was lower than on Earth control, but the difference was too minute to make a difference. Study researcher Wieger Wamelink adds that this proved that properly preparing and watering the Mars soil stimulant can result to good crop production.
The moon soil simulant biomass was half the biomass observed in the two soils. Additionally, only the spinach had poor biomass production.
“The total above ground biomass produced on the Mars soil simulant was not significantly different from the potting compost we used as a control,” remarks Wamelink. “The goal of the experiments is to provide the basis for growing crops on Mars and on the moon, in order to feed the first settlers.”
These were edible crops, but the researchers note that they did not eat these because the soils contain lead, arsenic, mercury and iron. They suspected that the plants became poisonous as they might have absorbed these heavy metals.
Hence, they conclude that they need to start their third experiment that will investigate about food safety so they started a crowdfunding campaign to fund this new research and expect to start in April 2016. If all the crops are already safe to eat, they say that they would invite the crowdfunders to join them in their Martian meal.