Crops have been successfully planted in simulated Martian soil

Image Credit: NASA

Image Credit: NASA

If you have seen the movie The Martian, then you probably remember the part where the astronaut Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) needs to plant potatoes using soil from the planet Mars. This idea is based on actual research being conducted in the Netherlands.

Scientists from Dutch Wageningen University and Research Center have been experimenting with crops grown in simulated Martian soil. The scientists report that they have been quite successful in growing certain plants in the simulated soil. That being said, no one actually has access to actual soil from the planet Mars, however, we do know what its chemical makeup is. By combining the same minerals that are found on the red planet, we can create soil that is nearly identical to that of Mars.

They began conducting experiments a few years ago. The first few resulted in the crops failing to sprout and if they did, they quickly withered and died. But through trial and error, they found that by adding some of the organic materials that help plants grow in Earths soil, they were able to grow 10 different crops in the simulated soil including peas and tomatoes. By mixing these organic materials with the soil, they are able to correct a problem that the foreign soil presents on its own, trouble holding water.

The experiments continued and began to be conducted using lunar soil as well. Plants grown in soil from the Moon have had slightly more accurate results. This is because the soil has been retrieved from the Moon and has been brought back to our planet. The Lunar soil is the real thing and is not a created simulate. The Mars soil is still just a simulation to the real thing. This means while the plant growth in the Mars soil has been a great breakthrough, there is still no way of knowing how the plants will grow in the real thing. We don’t know for sure how Martian soil behaves, and due to the higher trace of metallic compounds in the Martian soil, we are not sure if the plants would be toxic to eat.

The scientists are crowdfunding to try and supplement the budget they need to continue their research. The next few experiments are going to focus on analyzing plants grown in these soils for safety and nutrition information.

Source: The Washington Post

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