Can we safely eat plants grown on Mars?
Several groups including NASA, Elon Musk and Mars-One hope to take people to Mars in the next ten to fifteen years. Returning to the Moon may happen in the next five 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? In 2013 and 2015 we conducted two experiments to investigate whether it was possible to cultivate peas, radishes and tomatoes on Mars and moon soil simulant supplied by NASA. The 2015 experiment provided the first radishes, peas, tomatoes and rye, but
it is also safe to eat them?
The Mars and lunar soils contain several heavy metals that are toxic to humans such as lead, cadmium and arsenic. Plants are not too bothered by these and just carry on growing. We don’t know if the harvested fruits contain heavy metals and we don’t know if it is safe to eat them – which is what we aim to address in this project. If the project is successful, and shows that it is indeed safe to eat the plants and fruits, it brings the journey and the establishment of a long term human presence on Mars and a more or less permanent base on the moon one step closer.
The experiment will be carried out according to a procedure developed in 2015, with some improvements. It will use experimental trays, with one crop per tray, containing respectively peas, tomatoes and radishes and two other crops. The experiment will be replicated five times and the soils (Mars and lunar simulants and terrestrial control) will be enriched with organic material in order to improve the structure and nutrient supply. For Mars the nutrient will consist of the parts of the plants that would not be eaten and human faeces. Fruits and edible parts will be harvested and analysed for heavy metals at the Wageningen UR institute Rikilt.
Spin-off for the Earth
Whilst the survey is conducted for Mars and lunar soil simulant, it will also provide an insight into the uptake of heavy metals by plants in general and is therefore applicable to the situation on earth. In this context we can think about the potential use of plants to clean up metal contaminated soils or even the collection of rare metals by using plants.
This project is part of a larger effort to conduct more research into the cultivation of crops on Mars and the moon. However, in the long term, this could also result in the development of closed systems which may also be applied in earth conditions such as in deserts where similar problems apply. This research can contribute to growing crops, for example in containers, in places where it is currently not possible or in places where there has been a disaster and food is urgently required to be grown. It also investigates how the agricultural ecosystem could function on Mars and the moon. This also provides important insights about farming systems on Earth and the interaction between crop, soil, soil and pollinators, which are all necessary for a successful crop and not only on the moon or Mars. In 2016 the experiment will be extended with Sahara sand to investigate possible plant growth on it.
In 2013 the first study was conducted with fourteen different plant species in Mars and lunar soil simulant and terrestrial river sand. The plant species were wild plant species, shamrocks and a number of agricultural crops, including rye and tomato. In total, 840 jars were filled with sand with five seeds per pot. It soon turned out that the plants grew well in the simulant Martian soil, but on the lunar soil many plants died soon after germination. This was mainly due to a lack of moisture and the toxic effect of aluminium. In the second experiment, we used large containers (instead of jars) and grass to provide ‘green’ manure. As a result the plants grew well on both the simulant Mars and lunar soils and rucola, cress, radish, pea, rye and tomato could all be harvested. The big question now is can we safely eat these plants?
Voedsel voor Mars en maan wint de Klokhuis wetenschapsprijs10/11/2016 | 11:06
Onder het toeziend oog van de kinderjury is de eerste wetenschapsprijs van het klokhuis toegekend aan ons onderzoek. Nieuwe presentatrice van het Klokhuis Eva rijkte de prijs uit tijdens een speciale kindersessie tijdens het InScience filmfestival in Nijmegen op woensdag 2 november. Daarna is er nog een kindercollege gegeven over vooral eten op Mars, zijn er toastjes met ‘Mars’ chutney uitgedeeld en veel vragen van kinderen beantwoord in een bomvolle zaal. Het is een geweldige eer om deze prijs te krijgen en dan nog wel van de generatie die rijzen naar Mars gaat meemaken.
Datum 'Mars' diner10/07/2016 | 13:47
Nu het blijkt uit de eerste resultaten dat het veilig is om de groenten gekweekt op Mars en maan bodemsimulanten te eten gaan we ons grote Mars maan diner organiseren. Het diner zal worden gebaseerd op de oogst van dit jaar. Het wordt gehouden bij de Rijn IJssel Vakschool Wageningen op 30 Augustus 2016. Er zijn nog plaatsen vrij en je kunt je nog opgeven tot de 15de augustus 2016. De chef kok is Jaap Harm van Seggeren, die een zeer spannend vier gangen diner heeft opgesteld, daarover later meer. Ik zal helpen in de keuken, aardappels schillen enzo en later op de dag geef ik een presentatie over het experiment van dit jaar. We beginnen het diner met het proeven van de tomaten, smaakt een ‘Mars’ tomaat anders dan een aardse?
Thank you card
Thank you! You enable us to continue the experiments. In exchange you receive a thank you card and your name will be put in the draw of donors who will be invited to visit the experiment.27 donors
Thank you card
Thank you! You enable us to buy 1 kg of Mars sand simulant for the experiments. In exchange you receive a thank you card and your name will be put in the draw of donors who will be invited to visit the experiment.8 donors
Thank You! You enable us to buy seeds and to by 1kg of moon soil simulant. In return you receive a poster with art-work about a Mars colony and your name will be in the draw of donors we will invite to visit the experiment.15 donors
Thank You! You make it possible to by 3 kg of Martian soil, enough for one crop species, e.g. peas. Your reward is a guided tour of one hour by the project leader.1 donor No longer available
Your own Mars sand simulant
You enable us to do one test on heavy metals on the vegetables we grow in the experiment. In return you receive a small amount of Mars sand simulant and your name will be in the draw of donors we will invite to visit the experiment.17 donors
Photobook (regular edition)
Thank you! You enable us to research the safety of food grown on Mars. In return you receive the photobook with the best pictures of the previous experiments and your name will be in the draw of donors we will invite to visit the experiment..1 donor
Thank You! You enable us to use the greenhouse. We will invite you to a Martian dinner in Wageningen and experience what a human Martian would eat. If the vegetables and fruits we grow will prove to be safe to eat, they will be included in the meal. Be the first one in the world to eat a Martian dinner!1 donor No longer available
Deluxe edition of the photobook
Thank you! You enable us to research the safety of food grown on Mars. In return you receive the deluxe edition of the photobook of the previous experiments. You will also receive an invitation to visit the experiment.1 donor