We may yet see man on Mars during our lifetimes, but until that happens, scientists are taking into consideration all the possible problems likely to appear on the monumental odyssey to come. One answer to the question “How would we feed astronauts during a mission that could take at least two years?” would be: Agriculture on Mars.
After all, this isn’t the Moon, where astronauts can be home for supper in just three days. With Mars being 55 million kilometers away from Earth at its closest point, it takes a space vehicle around 300 days to reach the fourth rock from the Sun. While the pioneers who would endeavor on the dangerous mission will not lack supplies, just thinking of a minimum 600 days spent in the void of space could make one’s stomach grumble.
One solution could be for astronauts to learn to grow food directly on the planet surface. Researchers from the NASA: Kennedy Space Center and the Florida Tech Buzz Aldrin Space Institute have been experimenting with the ways vegetables could grow on Martian soil. By the way, that term is technically incorrect:
“Soil, by definition, contains organics [..]. Mars doesn’t really have soil,” the chief manager of food production at the Kennedy Space Center told the press.
In order to simulate how vegetable growth would work in such an environment, scientists used volcanic earth from Hawaii. They experimented with three seeds of lettuce: one they put in the Martian-like, nonorganic earth, the second one was put on the same type of earth, but with added nutrients, and the third was grown in normal potting soil.
The seed from the Martian-like did eventually grow, much slower than the others. Its roots were much weaker, but it had the same taste as the other two lettuces. So even without added nutrients, astronauts will be able to practice agriculture on Mars. Scientists are now experimenting with tomatoes, radishes, and Chinese cabbage among others, to create a wider variety of precious food that might feed the Martian pioneers.
NASA and Elon Musk’s SpaceX plan to put man on Mars within the following two decades. By then, food will hopefully be the least of their problems.
Image source: Wikipedia