Mars Exchange
Food for Mars: The Martian

Food for Mars: The Martian

by Natasha Schön on Tuesday, 13th October 2015 in Food for Mars, People, Wieger Wamelink

Last Tuesday I went to see ‘The Martian’, the must-see movie for all Mars enthusiasts, SF lovers, and, last but not least, Mars-One candidates. This blog is dedicated to the movie, so be aware: SPOILER ALERT! This is the eleventh 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 first nine blog posts below!

I went to the seven o’clock display of The Martian, the earliest movie that day. Tuesdays is always a dull day for the movie theatre, I went once with a friend to see a Star Trek movie on a Tuesday and there was just one other visitor. Last Tuesday I went there early, all dressed up for a special reason, I was to give a short five minute presentation about our experiment followed by five minutes of questions. After being introduced by the staff, they mentioned that there were two resemblances between Mark Watney (Matt Damon) and me. The first was that we are both botanists, and well the second, look at the picture of me hovering over the first experiment and the movie poster. I never realised it but there seems to be some resemblance between Matt Damon and me. I do not get it, I always thought my brother was the look-alike. Although I too look like my brother...

There were about sixty present with plenty of questions, which went well. This differs from the movie because that did not start to well, with a thunder-sandstorm blowing a heavy space craft almost off its platform. But the air pressure at Mars is so low (0.6%) that this never ever could happen. Moreover, the astronauts or should we say human Martians, walked around like they were on Earth, where Mars has a lower gravity tan earth so they should be bouncing like Neil Armstrong on the moon.

As a botanist I liked the small potato plant that grew as the first crop on Mars. It was a pity that they looked strange when they were big with very elongated tiny leaves. I would have expected bigger leaves due to the lack of light; Watney was growing them inside the main ‘tent’ under artificial lights. Plants could compensate for lack of light by growing bigger leaves. Did they go for plastic plants? It looked like it. The crops were protected by an apparently very strong tent canvas, which was at some point repaired with, how appropriate, duct tape; everyone needs it, even in Space. How the inside pressure (1 atmosphere) did not blow up the tent immediately is beyond me. There must some magic in the tent canvas. Radiation levels on Mars are high due to the absence of a strong electromagnetic field, though the thin atmosphere blocks part of the radiation. The tent canvas must then block the rest, because radiation is not only poisonous for people but also for plants, especially the propagation will be influenced negatively. Because of the radiation, the first human Martian will have to live belowground, similar to the hobbits, or in drilled out homes in the mountains as in another famous Mars movie Total Recall. Living in tents will be an illusion, at least for in the near future.

What I liked about the movie, besides growing potatoes on Mars in Martian soil using urine and poop, are the marvellous views of Mars and the desolation and the struggle of Mark to overcome all the problems, step by step, like a real scientist applying the true scientific approach.

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

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To the left me hovering over our first Mars moon experiment, to the right Matt Damon as Mark Watney (Courtesy of 20th Century Fox).

Grown up potatoes in Mark Watney’s tent. Are they real or plastic? Photo Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

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