Garden on Mars

by Sam Walter, Sustainable Plant Systems major

The current world population is shy of 7.5 billion and is climbing. As the population increases, the available water, land, and resources are diminishing quickly. Scientists are urgently looking for ways to accommodate the growing population on limited land. Recently, professors at Florida Tech along with NASA have been researching something that could possibly help solve this issue: growing plants on Mars. If Mars can sustain life and grow plants humans will be able to live on Mars. Water and building materials will need to be transported to the Red planet reducing costs and improving efficiency.

Successfully growing vegetation on Mars will not be easy. The average temperature of Mars is -80 degrees Fahrenheit but has a wide range from -195 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The substance that covers mars surface is called regolith and is similar to volcanic rocks. Scientists are waiting on a sample from Mars that is estimated to be 15 years from now. For the experiment, scientists will use volcanic rock from Hawaii. The regolith contains toxic metals that may be taken up with the water and fertilizer.

Drew Palmer, a biochemistry and chemical ecology professor at Florida Tech, and Brooke Wheeler, an ecologist and professor in the College of Aeronautics at Florida Tech, conducted a three-and-a-half-week pilot study growing lettuce in 3 variations of growing media using only stimulant, stimulant with added nutrients and the control is potting soil. The experiment began with 30 samples but only half made it to the conclusion of the study. The scientists tested the level of toxic metals in the lettuce and found very low levels of metals. The lettuce grown in the stimulant tasted the same as that grown in the potting soil but the stimulant grown lettuce did not have as strong of roots as the potting soil grown lettuce.

In September, NASA and Florida Tech came together to conduct a 9-month experiment testing radishes, swiss chard, kale Chinese cabbage, snow peas, dwarf peppers, and tomatoes. NASA scientists are taking charge with the stimulant choice and setup of the experiment while Florida Tech students will conduct the experiment. After the experiment, NASA will help Florida Tech analyze plant health.

I think that NASA will make it possible for life on Mars, but I don’t think it will happen for another 30+ years. The extensive research needed to fully compose a plan for human life to take place and thrive on Mars will take numerous years. Before life is established there will need to be multiple test runs and experiments to ensure that human life is possible. There are many factors that still need to be assessed and thoroughly investigated before humans will live on Mars.

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This blog post was an assignment for Societal Issues: Pesticides, Alternatives and the Environment (PLNTPTH 4597). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the class, Department of Plant Pathology or the instructor.

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