Mars Exchange
Food for Mars: A Tomato for Matt Damon

Food for Mars: A Tomato for Matt Damon

by Natasha Schön on Monday, 28th September 2015 in Food for Mars, People, Wieger Wamelink

On the 25th of September 2015, the second experiment on how to grow crops on Mars and moon soil simulant ended with a final harvest. This is always a sad moment, though there is still lots of work to do, no more trips to the greenhouse and no more jokes about cycling to Mars in the lunch break. However, part of the harvested material will be used for a new experiment, starting soon. And I will report about that as well, so this is not the last blog for this year. This is the tenth post in a blog series about experiments conducted by a team of ecologists and crop scientists of Wageningen UR. The goal of these experiments is a proof of concepts for providing the first (human) Martians with ‘own-grown’ fresh food. Find the links to our other 9 blog posts below!

The breaking news of the last week, Mars One tweeted about it amongst others, was about the first tomato grown on Mars soil simulant; a red fruit for a red planet. As always I have added ‘simulant’ to the word soil. That is important since we do not use real Martian soil, but a simulant that resembles the Martian soil as close as possible, provided by NASA via Orbitec. Nevertheless, the tomato was a success, not only since it makes tomato soup or sauce possible, but also because it means seeds for the next generation. One of the follow up experiments will be to investigate if the produced seeds are viable. It would only make sense to cultivate crops on Mars or the Moon if the follow up experiments are a success and the seeds are able to form new plants. If the seeds are not viable, a constant stream of new seeds would have to be flown in, making Mars farmers highly dependent on seed deliveries from Earth.

Last Friday all aboveground biomass was removed by Joep and me and stored in bags and subsequently brought to the drying oven. This is where the bags will stay till next week Friday, and then they will be weighed. That will give an impression about how well the soils performed and what the effect was of mixing organic matter with the Mars and moon soil simulant. This will not be the end of the experiments for this year; we will start a different experiment soon, with part of the harvested biomass. When harvesting we got a big surprise as well, a tomato the size of a marble on the moon soil simulant. It was so hidden that no one had spotted it before!

‘The Martian’ will be out in the theatres soon. I will give a short intro to the movie in CINEMEC, the movie theatre near Wageningen, so only accessible for the locals. But I promise to write about the movie in the next blog, especially about what is realistic and what is not.

Story contributed by Wieger Wamelink, a Senior Ecologist at Alterra. 

More Information:

The first red tomato on Mars soil simulant.

The first harvested tomatoes on Mars soil simulant. They are small, cherry tomatoes.

Earth control tray after the final harvest, all aboveground biomass is removed, and the roots remain behind for a new experiment.

The last surprise of this year’s experiment, two tomatoes in the moon soil simulant.

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