Scientist Grow Crops In Mars Soil—'The Martian' In Real Life?

Sometime in the future, astronauts could be planting edible crops on Mars. No doubt inspired by the film, The Martian, starring Matt Damon, researchers in the Netherlands have reproduced Mars-equivalent soil and grown up to ten species of crop with only minor reduced yields.

The Martian, based on the Andy Weir novel, tells the story of Astronaut Mark Watney. The fictional character is stranded on the Red Planet by his crew who left him for dead. In classic Matt Damon form, he is able to get a signal back to NASA, who immediately begins working out a strategy to get him home. This is going to take months. Lucky for Mark, he lays claim to a botany degree.

Damon's character in The Martian conditions the soil within his habitat using human feces, and within weeks, he's eating potatoes. But is this possible? The researchers say that they saw success with tomato, rye, radish, pea, leek, spinach, garden rocket, cress, quinoa, and chives, according to ScienceAlert.

Lead researcher Wieger Wamelink from Wageningen University & Research centre in the Netherlands said the following in their recently published paper.

"The production of biomass on the Mars soil simulant was lower than on Earth control, but it was a minor difference and caused by one of the trays that showed less growth... That was a real surprise to us. It shows that the Mars soil simulant has great potential when properly prepared and watered."
Two hundred and forty-nine million miles from Earth, future martians will need a sustainability program. Not only can they not be expected to as many supplies as they will need, but they will need to adapt to their new environment. That is why the study answers such an important question: what will settlers do for food when we get there and is terraforming Mars a real possibility?

The research proves that humans will be able to use the soil on Mars to feed people in a sustainable way and chances are, nobody will have to bring human excrement into the equation. The soil gathered for the experiment came from a volcano in Hawaii.

At the same time, another experiment was done by the same group of researchers in which they tested lunar-like soil from Arizona. We all know that plants grow in Arizona all the time, so that aspect isn't much of a shocker. The study still hasn't been peer reviewed. However, Wageningen University is a trusted source for scientific research and the work they have done to explain whether Mars could be have some agricultural makeovers is big.

Another reason to be skeptical is that the experiment only tested soil. Not other atmospheric conditions. Plants need sunlight, which is obviously available on Mars. But what about radiation, or the coldness of the planet itself? But the researchers reassure their audience that the experiment was designed to show how plants could be grown underground to shelter the crops from the harsh atmosphere.

Be leery still of Mars food.

"The soils contain heavy metals like lead, arsenic, and mercury and also a lot of iron," said Wamelink. "If the components become available for the plants, they may be taken up and find their way into the fruits, making them poisonous."

In short, we know plants grow in Martian soil, but we don't know if they can be eaten.

Humans are constantly trying their hardest to launch themselves off this paradise we call planet Earth so that we may one day call ourselves martians. And scientists are doing their best to make interstellar agriculture a thing. Recent breakthroughs consist of growing lettuce and and making flowers bloom aboard the International Space Station.

[Photo by NASA/Getty Images]