Worried that your Martian diet may be just freeze-dried fruits and dried veggies? Worry no longer: future Mars settlers could feast on quinoa, tomatoes, and peas. A team at Wageningen University in the Netherlands has successfully grown food in Mars soil stimulant from NASA, bringing us one step closer to a realistic Mars colony.
So far, the Wageningen researchers have conducted two experiments, one in Mars soil and one in moon soil. In 2013 they determined they could grow food, and in 2015 they harvested six diverse species. They improved their yield from the first experiment to the second by using grass as fertilizer and growing the plants in trays rather than jars.
The Wageningen University team believes the first Mars colonists will likely grow food underground. They say it would be difficult to create a structure strong enough for the surface that would protect the plants from cosmic radiation. Mars settlers will probably grow food in engineered conditions in habitations below the surface, so in their experiments, the Netherlands team grew food in consistent, Earth-like conditions in a greenhouse.
While the research emphasizes paving the way for future Mars colonizers, the team also believes their findings could benefit those living in harsh environments here on Earth, such as the desert or a disaster area.
There’s one catch: they can’t eat the food. Mars soil stimulant comes from a Hawaii volcano, and moon soil from an Arizona desert. The soil stimulant contains heavy metals such as mercury, lead, and arsenic. The team needs to determine if these metals contaminate the food, but senior ecologist Wieger Wamelink is hopeful and wants to focus on growing edible food in a third experiment.
Crowdfunding is their next step. They’re currently raising money through the Wageningen crowdfunding platform, and hope to begin the next batch of experiments in April. Provided the experiments are fruitful, by donating a little over $550 you could eat the first Martian dinner.