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Can We Really Grow Plant Life On Mars?

One day, after staring at the pea patch during Algebra, I started thinking about Mars and the potential to grow food on it. Recently lots of media attention has been about NASA uncovering vast evidence of flowing water on Mars (we still haven’t found evidence of water in California). Propositions of potential farming and plant growth on the small red planet have began to arise.

NASA has proposed some rather intriguing ideas after their finding: the ability to grow plants on other planets is a feasible way for astronauts to sustain themselves while on a mission.

Many of you have seen “The Martian”, where botanist Mark Wattney (spoiler alert) survives by actually growing potatoes using Martian soil, then returns to Earth. Surprisingly enough this is actually possible, the terrain and composition of Martian soil is somewhat similar to some of the harsh environments, like the Sahara Desert on Earth. Earlier in 2014, scientists have recreated the configuration of Martian soil and planted twenty species. Many of the species of plant withered away quite quickly, but scientists from PLoS ONE showed that 80% of the tomato, rye, carrot, and garden cress plants were alive in Martian soil at the end of the study. Scientists concluded that growing plant life on other planets would be a viable and sustainable source of nutrients for future astronauts.

All of this sounds pretty simple right? Wrong! To be honest NASA is still working on even getting people to Mars in the first place. This may sounds exciting but many obstacles lay ahead: the atmosphere and gravity on Mars is way different than ours which means that plants might grow in obscure ways, or may not even grow at all. Getting to Mars is crazy expensive, like $6,000,000 per mission expensive. As time goes on, as technologies advance, and as we hopefully continue to invest in to NASA’s abilities we will reach a point where growing food on Mars will really matter. Think about this, all future astronauts will be able to grow their own healthy, sustainable foods with ease.

We need to invest in NASA’s ability to go to Mars, one way is to specifically invest in growing food on other planets because rations are not sustainable and therefore astronauts can only stay as long as needed. Doing so will advance our knowledge of Mars and most likely lead to the development of new technology. Although space travel is extremely expensive, the knowledge we gain will benefit our understanding in all walks of life.

By James Garvey

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