Martian Spring

Martian Farms

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A research and design program to develop efficient, sustainable agricultural techniques for Mars and other space settlements.

Summary

Agriculture is critical to both basic human survival in space and In-Situ Resource Utilization, plants and animals offering us an at-hand form of nanotechnology with which to turn space’s very basic resources into useful materials with low energy. Horticulture is also crucial to the wellbeing of space settlers, both as a component of life support systems and in affording them a means of making life in their enclosed habitats more comfortable and appealing. We anticipate this to become a central feature of space settler culture and lifestyle across the solar system. Mars presents unique challenges for this, however, with its extreme environment and toxic regolith chemistry. With manpower at a premium for early settlement, automation will also be necessary and it is likely that agriculture developed for ISRU purposes will be entire machine-managed long before settlers’ arrival. New techniques, relating closely to the contemporary development of urban and vertical farming, will be necessary to make farming on the planet practical, sustainable, and productive.

Through our Martian Farms program we will seek to research, develop, and demonstrate a variety of space agriculture systems for application in areas of Closed Environment Life Support Systems, industrial production, food production, and aesthetic uses suited to the types of structures anticipated for future space habitats.


Discussion

Several groups including NASA, Elon Musk and others hope to take people to Mars in the next five to ten years. If we get there it will be to stay for extended periods. People will also have to eat there and what is more logical than to grow your own food locally? Back in March, scientists from the Netherlands’ Wageningen University (http://www.wur.nl/en.htm) successfully grew ten different crops in Mars-like soil provided by NASA. But there was a catch: they couldn’t eat the food. They worried it contained heavy metals like cadmium and lead, which were present in the Mars soil stimulant. Well, good news: further research determined at least four of the crops do not contain dangerous heavy metal levels and are therefore edible, getting us one step closer to life on the Red Planet. The Wageningen team, led by ecologist Wieger Wamelink, tested radishes, tomatoes, rye, and peas. They tested the crops for cadmium, lead, aluminium, nickel, copper, chrome, iron, arsenic, manganese, and zinc. None of those compounds appeared in dangerous levels, and Wamelink said the results are “very promising.” Some of the heavy metal concentrations detected in the food were even less than those found in plants cultivated in regular potting soil. The plants were also tested for vitamins, alkaloids, and flavonoids. Whats in Mars Soil? (http://space.coop/workshop/wims.html) The five most abundant ingredients, account for almost 90% of the dirt taken from Mars samples are as follows: SiO2 - 49.5% Fe2O3 - 17.9% Al2O3 - 7.2% MgO - 7.7% CaO - 6.7% The Phoenix Mars Lander measured the pH of martian soil in one area, and it measured at an alkaline 8 or 9. That’s a level habitable by a broad spectrum of microbes and plant life. The soil, near Mars’s north pole, also contains ions such as calcium and chloride, as well as water-bearing minerals, at least in the first few centimeters below the surface. Moderately Alkaline Soil Plants: The following crops will tolerate a pH of 6.0 to 7.0 or greater: Artichoke (6.5-7.5) Arugula (6.5-7.5) Asparagus (6.0-8.0) Bean, pole (6.0-7.5) Bean, lima (6.0-7.0) Beet (6.0-7.5) Broccoli (6.0-7.0) Broccoli rabe (6.5-7.5) Brussels sprouts (6.0-7.5) Cabbage (6.0-7.5) Cantaloupe (6.0-7.5) Cauliflower (6.0-7.5) Celery (6.0-7.0) Chinese cabbage (6.0-7.5) Celeriac (6.0-7.0) Celery (6.0-7.0) Chinese cabbage (6.0-7.5) Chive (6.0-7.0) Cilantro (6.0-6.7) Claytonia (6.5-7.0) Collard (6.5-7.5) Cress (6.0-7.0) Endive/escarole (6.0-7.0) Fennel (6.0-6.7) Gourd (6.5-7.5) Horseradish (6.0-7.0) Jerusalem Artichoke/Sunchoke (6.7-7.0) Kale (6.0-7.5) Kohlrabi (6.0-7.5) Leek (6.0-8.0) Lettuce (6.0-7.0) Marjoram (6.0-8.0) Mizuna (6.5-7.0) Mustard (6.0-7.5) Okra (6.0-7.5) Onion (6.0-7.0) Oregano (6.0-7.0) Pak choi (6.5-7.0) Parsnip (5.5-7.5) Pea (6.0-7.5) Radicchio (6.0-6.7) Radish (6.0-7.0) Rhubarb (6.5-7.0) Sage (6.0-6.7) Salsify (6.0-7.5) Spinach (6.0-7.5) Squash, summer (6.0-7.0) Sunflower (6.0-7.5) Sunflower (6.0-7.5) Swiss chard (6.0-7.5) Tarragon (6.0-7.5) Tomatillo (6.7-7.3) Watermelon (6.0-7.0)

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