Researchers at the Wageningen University in the Netherlands are growing plants in soil which has the same composition as soil found on Mars and on the Moon.
The team has planted 14 different species of plants in pots filled with soil provided by researchers at NASA, who used a mixture of elements that exist on Earth. Most of the Mars composite soil comes from a volcanic area on Hawaii – and is almost identical to samples brought from Mars by Viking 1.
Wieger Wamelink, an ecologist at the university, said: “I was very surprised when we found out plants grew better in the Mars soil than in the Earth soil. The Earth soil that we used was quite clean, a kind of river soil, relatively poor in minerals. But I didn’t expect the Mars soil to produce better plants.”
The research is linked to the “Mars One” project – which aims to put the first people on Mars in a decade’s time. But it’s already certain that it will be impossible to grow tomatoes for a salad, for example, because although a plant grown in Mars soil could produce a tomato, but it would contain so many heavy metals that it would be toxic and inedible.
So although so far, 200,000 people have applied to join the first “Mars One” settlement… it is not clear that they will eat.