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"To boldly grow where no plant has grown before" (Wieger Wamelink)

If we intend to go to Mars it makes sense to find out more about what we are going to eat there. Reserach has been done on space food (in tubes) and aquaponics, ut why not simply use the soil at hand and our century-old knowledge of agriculture? Researcher Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen University took this as the starting point for an adventurous project.

To find the soil itself for starters. As he didn’t have real soil samples from Moon or Mars he had to look for simulants. First, he used samples from a volcano on Hawaii and a desert near Flagstaff in Arizona, ordered at Orbitec. Now his supply comes from the Martian Garden which has also nearly run out. Future soil samples are fabricated by the University of Central Florida. https://www.zmescience.com/science/mars-soil-buy-30092018/

His tests always includes three sampless: regular earthly soil, Moon simulant and Mars simulant. It’s interesting to see, even though his lab is tiny at the moment, how vegetables respond differently to the different situations. In general however, his findings are that Moon is the most difficult for agriculture. Moon plants remain skinny, whereas whatever grows on Earth usually also survives in Mars simulant.

Since the start of his research he has been able to produce tomatoes, beans and rocket. But is it safe to eat vegetables from the highly contamined Mars grounds? “We didn’t find any metals, except a little bit of aluminium in the water of the moon soil. We also tested whether there were any heavy metals in our harvest: the tomatoes, peas, radishes, and rye. They turned out to be safe to eat”, says Wamelink.

The next step is to find out more about possible fertilisers. “One of the things we would like to investigate is whether worms can live in Mars soil. Worms eat plant residues and partially secrete them back. In this way they spread plant residues throughout the soil. This is better for the soil because it helps it retain water better. Worms also aerate the soil so that it’s easier for oxygen to reach the roots, which need it to grow. We would also like to find out whether bacteria can live in this soil, because bacteria can transform dead plant residue into food for plants, and they help convert nitrogen from the air into fertiliser.”

Find out more on: https://www.wur.nl/en/article/QA-with-Wieger-Wamelink.htm

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