Scientists have cultivated nine different crops, including garden cress, tomato, radish, rye, quinoa, spinach, chives, and peas, on Mars and lunar soil simulant developed by NASA, supporting the idea that it is possible to grow food on the Red Planet and the Moon to feed future settlers.
The researchers at Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands also suggests that it is also possible to obtain viable seed from crops grown on Mars and the Moon.
“We were thrilled when we saw the first tomatoes ever grown on Mars soil simulant turning red. It meant that the next step towards a sustainable closed agricultural ecosystem had been taken,” said Wieger Wamelink from Wageningen University & Research.
The researchers simulated the properties of Lunar and Martian regolith and “normal” soil, potting soil from Earth, as a control.
According to the study published in the journal Open Agriculture, nine of the ten crops sown grew well and edible parts were harvested from them. Spinach was the exception.
Total biomass production per tray was the highest for the Earth control and Mars soil simulant that differed significantly from Moon soil simulant, the researchers said.
The seeds produced by three species, radish, rye and garden cress, were tested successfully for germination.
This latest paper follows previous research where 14 different plant species were grown in soil simulant. In that case, too, the Mars simulant proved more conducive to growth than the Moon simulant.
Other possibilities for growing food away from Earth include hydroponics, where only water is needed for cultivation and aeroponics, growing crops literally in mid-air, and spraying them with nutrients. Both present challenges of their own, so it’s important to keep our options open.
The researchers said that if humans are going to establish a base on the Moon or on Mars they will have to grow their own crops.
An option is to use Lunar and Martian regolith. These regoliths are not available for plant growth experiments, therefore NASA has developed regolith simulants, they said.