You heard that right, scientists have finally proven that you can grow vegetables in Martian soil. Astronauts living off the land is no longer something that only exists in the movies, it’s real and the potential is astounding.
Growing Vegetables on Mars
Scientists in the Netherlands have successfully raised more than ten different crops in simulated Martian dirt, including potatoes. The rusty-red regolith was designed by NASA, which used its rovers to sample the planet’s surface, and simulated the surface by using material found at a Hawaiian volcano.
The Dutch researchers mixed their extra-terrestrial “earth” with organic fertilizer to give their crops a head start. Their goal is to show that future crews to Mars could literally live off the land. That is why it is important for them to test as many crops as possible to make sure they will have access to as broad a variety of food sources.
But are they safe to eat?
The only thing that remains to be discovered is if the food they successfully grow in Martian soil is actually safe to eat.
There is a very real risk that the foods grown in that type of dirt are saturated with heavy metals. In addition to high levels of oxidized iron (which gives the planet its characteristic color), the Martian surface also contains cadmium, copper, lead, mercury and arsenic.
Initial tests on peas, tomatoes, rye, and radishes showed they were all within normal ranges, and in some cases the peas and tomatoes actually had lower levels than the control plants grown in regular potting soil, which is very promising news.
The other six crops, which have yet to be tested, include potatoes, green beans, carrots, cress and, appropriately, rocket. In previous years, they have also grown leek, spinach, quinoa and chives.
However, there could be another problem. Plants may form alkaloids when they are under pressure, which in high quantities could be poisonous to humans.
The Future is Bright
Despite the amount of testing that has yet to be performed, researchers are hopeful that future missions to Mars will be wildly successful. The experiments so far have been supported partly through crowd funding and the backers are expected to be invited to enjoy an authentic astro-salad once all the tests are complete.
The research is also backed by Mars One, a controversial private organization that plans to send a one-way mission to Mars in the next decade. Nasa also has plans for a Mars mission by 2030.