Researchers from the Netherlands were able to grow crops in soil samples patterned after the dirt found on Mars and the Moon. The latest discovery could solve one of the main issues faced by NASA in establishing a human colony in space.
As NASA prepares for a return mission to the Moon as well as the first human expedition to Mars, the agency has been very open to the idea of having a human colony in space. According to the agency, one of the main challenges of living in an alien planet is having a steady food supply.
To solve this issue, researchers from the Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands tried planting crops in soil simulants that NASA patterned after Martian and lunar regolith. For the experiment, the researchers planted 10 different crops including tomato, rye, chives, radish, leek, quinoa, spinach, garden cress, peas and rocket.
Organic matter was then added to the soil simulants to make them more ideal for crop growth. After a period of time, researchers were surprised to see that nine of the ten species they planted grew properly.
"The simulants were mixed with organic matter to mimic the addition of residues from earlier harvests," the researchers wrote in a study published in the online journal De Gruyter.
"Ten different crops, garden cress, rocket, tomato, radish, rye, quinoa, spinach, chives, pea and leek were sown in random lines in trays," they continued. "Nine of the ten species grew well with the exception of spinach. It was possible to harvest edible parts for nine out of ten crops."
This isn't the first time that the researchers experimented with the idea of space agriculture. In 2017, biologist Wieger Wamelink, the lead researcher of the team, was able to grow earthworms in Martian soil simulant developed by NASA.
Wamelink and his team was able to do so by mixing organic matter such as manure with the soil simulant to simulate the same environment that earthworms thrive in.
"For a sustainable agricultural ecosystem on Mars, indoors and under earth like air and pressure, worms are essential," he told Newsweek. "Nutrients in the dead plants must be brought back to the soil and worms help to do so."
This discovery, as well as the team's latest one with crops, could serve as an important framework that will help establish a thriving food supply in space colonies.