If we are to support ourselves on alien bases, then we will have to find a way to grow our own food, and now we have more than a movie about Matt Damon suggesting that it is possible –
experiments using lunalexes from the moon and the Martian soil successfully yield crops.
Interestingly, soil equivalent to Mars was better than the lunar soil simulator when it came to growing plants – providing hope for future agriculture on the Red Planet. Although spinach fans may miss out.
Researchers use NASA-developed reproduction of regolith, a loose mixture of dirt, dust and other debris found on the hard surface of Mars and the moon. This regolith simulator has been mixed with organic material that astronauts will have to bring to an extraterrestrial base from Earth or may remain compost from earlier harvests.
In tests on 1
"We were excited when we first saw Evergreens grown on the Mars soil simulator are turning red, "says ecologist Wieger Wamelink, from the University of Wageningen & Research in the Netherlands.
"This meant that the next step was taken towards a sustainable closed agricultural ecosystem."
This experiment has been running for several years, but now a peer-reviewed book has been published in the journal Open Agriculture .
Harvests perform better in Martian regolith than lunar regolith, researchers say – the Martian mix is based on observations taken by Viking landowners and the Pathfinder Road, and largely uses material from the Hawaiian volcanic region .  As for the Meadow Regolith, we actually have samples of it – just not enough to grow crops in. The NASA-approved simulator is based on material collected from deserts around Flagstaff, Arizona, in the US.
Successfully growing nine of the crop species, scientists have been able to collect enough seeds from radishes, garden cress and rust plants to start the second crop.
There is still much work to do before we can open our farms in Mars and the moon – this study only looks at the type of soil available on the moon and on Mars, without considering the other harsh factors that the plants would oppose such as solar radiation and extreme heat and cold (it is likely that we are
However, this is a positive step forward. Progress will always be slow when it comes to growing plants on other planets, but there are positive signs that we get there.
This one the last book follows previous studies in which 14 different plant species were grown in a soil simulator, in which case the Mars simulator proved to be more favorable to growth than the moon simulator.
Other food-growing opportunities away from Earth include hydroponics – where only water is needed for cultivation – and the aerodynamics, growing crops literally in the middle – air and spray them with nutrients. Both represent our own challenges, so it is important to keep our options open.
Researchers describe their work as "a small step towards the ultimate goal, a sustainable agricultural ecosystem for the Moon and Mars colonies".
"More research is needed to find the optimum organic matter content in the simulating regoliths and the efficiency of water use," they conclude in a published paper.
The study was published in Open Agriculture .