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Survival on Mars: NASA Scientists Developing 'Martian Garden'

Oct 08, 2016 12:30 PM EDT
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One of the biggest challenges that astronomers has to overcome in any space mission is having enough food supply. Because of this, NASA scientists are developing ways on how they can cultivate their own food during their missions, including plans for a garden on Mars.

According to Space.com, to prepare for the upcoming Mars mission, NASA scientists at present are relying on a simulated "Martian garden" to learn which plants astronauts might be able to grow on Mars. Because Mars is composed mainly of volcanic rocks and regolith and has infertile landscapes, it is the least favorable place to cultivate veggies.

"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 a statement.

Read: Pressing Mars Issue: How Will Humans Grow Food on the Red Planet?

Aside from the infertile soil, the land on Mars also contains some toxic chemicals, making crop production even more complicated than it already is. NASA's Kennedy Space Center together with the Florida Tech Buzz Aldrin Space Institute in Florida worked together to find ways on how they can enable agriculture in the red planet.

"We are using advances in science to learn about increasing plant production to supplement astronauts' diets," said Trent Smith, Veggie Project Manager at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in a statement.

As explained by Tech Times, the "Martian Garden" is made of soil from Hawaii and simulated in accord with the parameter on the soil required in Mars. For the pilot study, lettuce plants were subjected to three different conditions --- one in simulant, one in simulant with additional nutrients, and last one in potting soil.

After the five-week study, results showed that the lettuce tasted all the same, but the only difference is that, the lettuce grown on a "Mars-like" soil has weaker roots and a slower germination rate. The researchers are looking forward to testing more plants on the simulated Mars garden, including nutritious choices such as radishes, Swiss chard, kale, Chinese cabbage, snow peas, dwarf peppers and tomatoes.

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