Plants evolved here on Earth, but what if
we could take them with us to the stars? Hey gang, Trace here for DNews with your Weekly
Space Update. Last year, NASA announced we’d found water on Mars, and that got some people
thinking… could future astronauts grow crops in the Martian soil? It’s taken us thousands of years to hone farming
on Earth; we could plant crops ’til the cows come home but what’s good for the Earth goose
may not be good for the Martian gander. Soil needs a lot more than water to grow a plant.
Soil on Earth contains living and dead organisms including bacteria and plant matter, rocks
and minerals, and nutrients like nitrogen — it takes more than 500 years to form an
inch of topsoil on Earth. As far as we know, Mars doesn’t have organisms living in its
soil to aerate and break down the matter — so this is a huge challenge. Not all dirt is
created equal, there are 70,000 different types of soil in the United States alone! So, to simulate Martian soil we had to gather
information about Mars. The Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity has been doing JUST THAT, when it
wasn’t joyriding around Mars and snapping selfies, of course. Martian soil contains
carbon dioxide, oxygen and sulfur compounds as well as carbonates — or things that indicate
a presence of water. NASA gathered soil samples on Mars and then composed an approximation
of Martian soil using the volcanic soil of Hawaii. From there, plant ecologist Wieger
Wamelink planted 14 plants and grew them over 50 days. Obviously, the plants were given carbon dioxide,
oxygen and water, but it’s not just the obvious resources. The seeds of a plant can sustain
growth for a while, that’s what they’re for — to help the plant gain a foothold. According
to PhysOrg, Wamelink expected the plants to germinate and then die due to a lack of nutrients.
The researchers were surprised to find the plants did quite well, using the phosphorus
and iron oxides to take root. Unfortunately, the fact the plants grew in
a difficult soil environment is only one small part of the puzzle. The lower gravity and
temperature of Mars will make it difficult for water to be pulled into the soil, and
tougher for plants to evaporate their excess moisture. Plus, the sun is much farther away,
so any Martian plants will need extra light. They’re thinking LEDs at the moment, but no
one is quite sure. The moon is much closer, only a few days away.
So, to Newt Gingrich’s delight, the moon will probably be the location of Earth’s first
extraterrestrial colony. Wamelink is also trying to grow crops in the moon’s soil, called
regolith. Because our moon has no atmosphere, the regolith contains mainly meteorite pummeled
rock dust, micrometeor debris, rocks and volcanic glass… Not to mention radiation from the
unchecked solar wind. It would be HUGE if we can manage to get crops
to take root in ANY capacity on another planet. Not only for food, but for oxygen recycling,
and to give colonists something to DO all day. It can get pretty boring to sit around
in a spacecraft all the time. But that’s… another story… And if this doesn’t give you the train conductor
kick in the head excitement about the future, how about Shots of Awe with Jason Silva? Watch
Jason explore technology, space, human nature and love. … Whoa. What does your gut tell
you? Are EARTH plants going to grow on the moon or Mars? Tell us below and subscribe
for more DNews! Thanks for tuning in, you guys are the best.