OCT 28, 2016 07:47 AM PDT

NASA is Experimenting With Simulated Martian Soil to Grow Plants

NASA scientists are trying their best to produce healthy plants in simulated Martian "soil."

Image Credit: NASA

Certainly one of the things we will need to get very good at if we’re ever to send humans to Mars to live and study there is learn how to plant food in Martian “soil.”
 
The challenge comes from the fact that Mars doesn’t really have “soil.” Mars has a surface of crushed rock that’s almost sand-like, but its properties are an awful lot like the volcanic dust and debris. It lacks any nutrients or organic matter, which soil on Earth has, making it a potentially terrible planting platform for fruits and vegetables.
 
NASA just doesn’t know yet how that’s going to fare, so they’re beginning to experiment with planting by using Mars-like simulated dirt from Hawaii. This kind of dirt lacks the nutrients that typical soil has, so it should provide some real-world results.
 
“Soil, by definition, contains organics; it has held plant life, insects, worms. Mars doesn’t really have soil,” said Ralph Fritsche, the senior project manager for food production at Kennedy Space Center.
 
In NASA’s experimentation, 30 plant seeds were planted in Martian surface dirt simulant from Hawaii, and nothing else. At least half of those plants didn’t succeed to grow, and while they tasted the same as their nutrient-enriched counterparts that grow in Earthly soil, they had weaker and smaller roots and weren’t preforming too hot.
 
To compare, NASA is also planting their test subjects in nutrient-enriched simulant and Earth soil to have a control variable, as well as a catalyst. It’s hoped that the catalyst, which would be the nutrient additives in this case, might help make the simulant more habitable by the plants.
 
If the nutrient boost helps plant growth any, then it could be feasible for astronauts to utilize Martian surface dirt, fortified with nutrients, to plant their own food. If not, then we’ll have to figure something else out.
 
There is, however, an additional challenge. Martian surface dirt is believed to not only lack the necessary nutrients, but it may also have contaminants that could degrade the food quality of anything we grow there.
 
This is certainly a challenge that would need to be overcome, but first we have the preliminary hump of ensuring we can actually grow in nutrient-less dirt to begin with before we can start coming up with ways to clear the contaminants.
 
The testing hasn’t been completed yet, as the test program aims to try growing all kinds of foods that NASA astronauts may attempt to grow and eat while they’re on the red planet, including but not limited to Chinese cabbage, dwarf peppers, kale, snow peas, and tomatoes.
 
Source: NASA

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
NOV 12, 2019
Space & Astronomy
NOV 12, 2019
Say Hello to Hubble's Latest Portrait of Jupiter
NASA takes advantage of the Hubble Space Telescope’s powerful imaging capabilities to photograph both neighboring and distant objects in space, and s...
NOV 12, 2019
Space & Astronomy
NOV 12, 2019
Spacewalking Astronauts Install New Docking Adapter on International Space Station
It’s been business as usual for astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station for the past several weeks, but there was a bit more exc...
NOV 12, 2019
Space & Astronomy
NOV 12, 2019
What NASA's TESS Mission Has Accomplished Thus Far
Astronomers are particularly interested in finding an exoplanet like the Earth, and with the help of NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, al...
NOV 12, 2019
Space & Astronomy
NOV 12, 2019
SpaceX Will Need to Demonstrate a Dragon Capsule Abort for NASA
NASA’s Commercial Crew initiative enabled third-party contractors such as Boeing and SpaceX to develop platforms that may be used in future crewed mi...
NOV 12, 2019
Space & Astronomy
NOV 12, 2019
Here's Why NASA Wants to Crash a Spacecraft Into an Asteroid
Yes, you read that right; NASA would like to slam a purposefully built spacecraft into the surface of an asteroid. While this idea might seem like a substa...
NOV 12, 2019
Space & Astronomy
NOV 12, 2019
What You Need to Know About NASA's Upcoming WFIRST Space Telescope
There are several space telescopes observing the cosmos at the very time of this writing, and there are plans to launch even more of them in the near futur...
Loading Comments...