From Vox (source link): “If we ever wanted to permanently colonize Mars, one thing seems probable: we’d have to figure out how to grow some food there.
This raises an interesting question: could we use Martian soil to do it?
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Previously, NASA researchers had speculated that we’d have to either grow food hydroponically on Mars, or ship soil there from Earth. But a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE suggests that using Martian soil might actually be a possibility.
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In it, researchers found that plants actually grew better in a simulated Martian soil than in nutrient-poor soils found on Earth (and Martian soil seems to be more suitable than lunar soil). Still, there are lots of caveats to consider before assuming that farming on Martian soil is a real possibility.
How to grow plants on “Mars”
As part of the study, researchers from Wageningen University in the Netherlands grew a few different crops in sandy soils that simulated what you might find on Mars and the moon, and compared them to nutrient-poor soil they dug up from the banks of the River Rhine.
The simulated Martian soil was initially developed by NASA in 1998, based off soil analyses conducted by the Viking lander and Pathfinder rover. To make it, researchers take volcanic ash mined in Hawaii, sterilize it, and filter it so that its particles match the tiny size of those on Mars. Based on what we know about Martian soil, it’s thought to match it chemically as well.
The simulant is still made today — for NASA engineers to use in designing components that’ll someday be on Mars — and you can even buy it yourself from the third-party company that makes it, Orbitec. Two ounces are $7.50
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