Work is underway to figure out methods of growing produce in space, which is especially vital for eventual Mars colonists. Space food leaves a lot to be desired, so scientists are working on getting more variety into astronauts’ diets. They’re also working on ways to create sustainable agricultural practices, given that resupplying Earthly goods will bend, if not break, the budget. But that will require astronauts growing their own food, which raises the question of how suitable an environment is Mars (or the moon) is for growing plants. According to a study recently published in PLoS One, both Mars and the moon may be much better suited for agriculture than previously thought.
Dutch researchers planted fourteen different species of plants in soil similar in composition to that on Mars and the moon—the same soil NASA uses for simulations. The control group in the study used Earth soil from an area without many nutrients. Scientists planted mustard, tomatoes, rye, carrots, wheat, and cress into 840 different pots—20 replicas of each kind of plant species in each of the three types of soil. From there, all the subjects were kept under the same greenhouse conditions with 16 hours of light each day and temperatures of 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Researchers let them grow for 50 days.