Researchers from NASA's Kennedy Space Center and the Florida Tech Buzz Aldrin Space Institute are working on an artificial Martian garden that emulates the soil characteristics and climate conditions in Mars. The objective of the project is to determine the best vegetables that can be grown on the Red Planet.
NASA has been aiming to send humans to Mars in the near future. Private companies Boeing and SpaceX also expressed their interest to transport humans to the red planet, but among the major concerns of building a human colony in the extraterrestrial world would be feeding the people. The ability to grow vegetables and other crops in the Martian surface would help solve this issue.
On Earth, plants are typically grown on soil, which contains organics. Mars, however, does not really have the soil as we know it. It is covered with regolith, crushed volcanic rock that contains nothing organic. It also contains some toxic chemicals and all these conditions require studies that would investigate the plausibility of farming on Mars.
Researchers used 100 pounds of Martian soil simulant from Hawaii that were chosen based on data from Mars orbiters. Using this simulant, researchers will conduct experiments to determine which nutrients and how much of these have to be added to the simulant to optimize the growth of various crops.
In a pilot study, researchers grew lettuce plants on simulant-only tubes, simulant with added nutrients and potting soil. They will also attempt to grow other plants such as Swiss chard, kale, Chinese cabbage, snow peas, dwarf peppers and tomatoes. All these plants are considered nutritious and have been included in the menu items for astronauts.
Researchers plan to release the final report of the test results on March 2017.
"[R]esearch studying the performance of crop species grown in a simulated 'Martian garden' - a proving ground for a potential future farm on the Red Planet," wrote Anna Heiney of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Scientists have been conducting studies to investigate the feasibility of food gardening on Mars.
In an experiment being conducted in the Atacama Desert in Peru, scientists are testing 100 potato varieties, which include 60 varieties that were genetically modified to survive with little water and salt, to see if potatoes can be grown on Mars.
In another experiment, researchers were able to harvest 10 crops, which include pea, tomato, radish, chives, leek, quinoa, spinach, cress, rye and garden rocket from plants planted on moon and Mars soil simulants.