Mars astronauts in the future could grow crops in the dirt to avoid relying only on resupply missions, and to grow a greater amount and variety of food than with hydroponics alone.
However, studies have shown that growing plants on Mars is a lot complicated than simply planting crops with poop as shown in the film—“The Martian”. In the film, the astronaut played by Matt Damon survived starvation on Mars by planting potatoes on Martian soil fertilized with feces.
Research into growing plants on Mars
Researchers tried planting food in three types of fake Mars dirt, similar in composition to the actual dirt lined from the surface of the planet by NASA’s curiosity rover. Biochemist Andrew Palmer and his colleagues at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne planted lettuce and A. thaliana seeds in imitation Mars dirt under controlled lighting and temperature indoors, similar to conditions astronauts on Mars would face.
“It’s not surprising at all that as you get [dirt] that’s more and more accurate, closer to Mars, that it gets harder and harder for plants to grow in it,” planetary scientist Kevin Cannon of the Colorado School of Mines, who helped make the synthetic says.
The soil on Earth that allows us to grow food is full of microbes and organic material that sustains plant growth. Mars soil is different in composition, as it is basically crushed rock. Cannon added that transforming the Mars soil into a habitable place for plant growth is going to take a lot of time and effort.
Environment on Mars may also play a role on plants growth
The treatment that would be required to grow plants on Martian dirt might depend largely on the area where astronauts make their home.
“It probably depends where you land, what the geology and chemistry of the soil is going to be,” Edward Guinan, an astrobiologist at Villanova University in Pennsylvania says.