Mars Exchange
Food for Mars: The Restart

Food for Mars: The Restart

by Natasha Schön on Tuesday, 21st April 2015 in Food for Mars, People, Wieger Wamelink

This is the first blog about the second experiment that is being conducted to grow crops in Martian soil. By the way, it is not real soil from Mars since the Mars robots have only sent back data so far, but a Mars soil simulant that originates from a volcano on Hawaii and is provided by NASA for experiments. We are a team of four: Joep Frissel, Rini Verwoert, Wilfred Krijnen, and myself, Wieger Wamelink. Together we work at Wageningen UR to conduct experiments that aim to provide fresh food for the first human on Mars.

We started the first growth experiment two years ago at Wageningen UR, because the research team believes that mankind will go back to the moon and for the first time to Mars to set up permanent inhabited bases. One of the challenges of these missions will be food. It is clear that the colonists will need their own food supply because bringing ‘groceries’ to the new bases will be costly and will take up valuable space in a spacecraft. The journey to Mars in particular takes a lot of time so if you are out of your favourite herbs or spices, garlic flavoured chives, you cannot just order it via the Internet expecting it to be there instantly, dropped by a drone. We therefore believe that food production at the actual site is essential for survival, and the local soil, present in large quantities, and the local water will have to be used for that. To make that possible we conduct research on Earth in a greenhouse near Wageningen.

The goal of these experiments is to provide the first (human) Martians with fresh food, much like the possible future Martian Sheldon Cooper, who also volunteered to go to Mars in a recent episode of the Big Bang Theory. I wonder what he would like to eat on Mars, probably not his apparent favourite, take away food, since it will be rather cold when it arrives.

Our new experiment has been underway for over a week and all ten selected crops have already germinated on all three soils; the Mars and moon soil simulants as well as the earth control (which is a common compost rich soil available from your local garden centre). The ten species involved are rye, quinoa, peas, leek, radish, spinach, tomato, garden cress, garlic flavoured chive and garden rocket. This is all in line with the philosophy behind the experiment: using common technology and materials.


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

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This image shows experiment one week after sowing. At the bottom you can see the compost rich earth soil, in the middle the Mars simulant soil, and on top the moon simulant soil.


This image shows garden cress on Mars soil simulant after one week. On top you can see a soil particle on one of the leaves that was pushed up after germination.

Photo Credits: Wieger Wamelink 

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