Flickr/Bluedharma

We might be able to garden. 

Human colonization of Mars, the most habitable planet in the solar system aside from Earth, is no longer an if but a when. NASA's chief scientist has said we'll have an astronaut on Mars by 2035,  with plans to eventually establish a "permanent presence." And Mars One, a Dutch nonprofit with independent plans for a human colony, is currently choosing astronauts from the batch of 200,000 who applied to live there, starting in 2024

Now to attend to the non-negligible details, such as how to eat once we get there—the question a new study on the feasibility of gardening on Mars and the moon takes up.

A team of Dutch scientists  planted 14 plant species—including carrots, tomatoes, clover, and mustard—in Martian and Lunar soil simulants obtained from the same supplier NASA uses, as well as in nutrient-poor river soil from Earth. They gave the plants demineralized water, and no special nutrients. After 50 days, the researchers found that roughly 20 percent of the plants in lunar soil, 50 percent of the plants in Earth soil, and 65 percent of the plants in Martian soil were still living. Crop species like tomatoes and cress had the highest germination rates, too.

 Percentage of germination, leaf formation, flower formation and plants still alive after 50 days, per species. (PLoS One)

That the Martian soil did better than any other came as a surprise to the researchers. They write that the results show it's theoretically possible to grow crops in these simulants, and perhaps in real Martian soil inside an artificial enclosure. "However," they add, "many questions remain about the simulants' water-carrying capacity... and also whether the simulants are representative of the real soils." Not to mention, the effects of Mars-specific gravity and light. 

But these aren't the only scientists exploring green life on the Red Planet. NASA has proposed sending a tiny, self-contained greenhouse when the next Mars Rover launches in 2020, to see how plants would fare. It wouldn't mean digging in Martian soil, but it could mean breaking new ground for sustaining life on our sister planet. 
 
(Top image via Flickr user Bluedharma.)

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo of a Metro PCS store in Washington, D.C.
    Equity

    What D.C.’s Go-Go Showdown Reveals About Gentrification

    A neighborhood debate over music swiftly became something bigger, and louder: a cry for self-determination from a community that is struggling to be heard.

  2. The facade of a casino in Atlantic City.
    Photos

    Photographing the Trumpian Urbanism of Atlantic City

    Brian Rose’s new book uses the deeply troubled New Jersey city as a window into how a developer-turned-president operates.

  3. Tech workers sit around a table on their laptops in San Francisco, California
    Life

    America’s Tech Hubs Still Dominate, But Some Smaller Cities Are Rising

    Despite established urban tech hubs, some smaller cities are attracting high-tech jobs with lower living costs, unique talent pools, and geographic diversity.

  4. Equity

    The Hidden Horror of Hudson Yards Is How It Was Financed

    Manhattan’s new luxury mega-project was partially bankrolled by an investor visa program called EB-5, which was meant to help poverty-stricken areas.

  5. A photo of Ellicott City's Main Street
    Environment

    How Historic Ellicott City Plans to Survive the Next Flood

    After catastrophic storms in 2016 and 2018, the Maryland mill town has five flood control plans. But it faces hard choices on how to avoid future disasters.