Mars Exchange
Food for Mars: Peas

Food for Mars: Peas

by Natasha Schön on Tuesday, 28th April 2015 in Food for Mars, People, Wieger Wamelink

One of the crops used in the experiments to test whether crops can grow in Martian soil is the pea. There are special reasons behind including peas in the experiment, one of which is that the pea is very healthy and could be an important component in a vegetarian diet. As a protein rich seed it provides the (human) Martian with essential amino acids, and I think they taste great! This is the second blog post in a blog series about experiments conducted by myself, Wieger Wamelink, and a team. The goal of these experiments is to provide the first (human) Martians with fresh food. Make sure to read our first blog post!

Another very important reason to include peas or other legumes like beans or lupine is that they act as nitrate factories. On Mars (and moon as well) nitrate, though present, is rather scarce in the soil. Nitrate is essential for plant growth since it is manure in its purest form. Luckily, nitrogen is present in the Martian atmosphere and can be harvested and used for creating earth like air for the greenhouses, where the crops will be grown and where the humans will work, at least in this scenario. The trick is that legumes, such as the peas, together with bacteria are able to bind nitrogen from the air and turn it into nitrate. That is also the reason why we had the legumes as a group in the first experiment, mostly in the form of clovers, but also lupine (which is also edible).

Finally, peas are incredible and it is fun to see them grow. They start taking up water immediately, are able to push aside the rather crunchy crust (similar to your morning cereals) formed by the wet Martian soil, break free and even push themselves out of the soil to the surface. Then they start growing full speed, forming ‘tentacles’ to grab on anything like little green “Martians” and to boldly grow where no pea has grown before.

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

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This image show the peas pushing aside the crunchy earth and forming a crack in the earth - one pea almost peaking out

This image depicts recently germinated peas, that have pushed themselves out of the Martian soil

This image shows the first appearance of the ‘tentacles’ that boldly grow where no pea has grown before (namely on moon soil)

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