Moon soil crop experiment is one giant leap for space food -

Moon soil crop experiment is one giant leap for space food

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Moon soil crop experiment is one giant leap for space food

Researchers have successfully harvested crops grown in Martian-like soil provided by NASA in a bid to discover how to feed the first settlers on the moon and Mars.

But the next step is to discover whether the crops including tomatoes, radish, peas, leeks, chives, quinoa, garden arugula, cress and rye are completely safe to eat.

The first phase of the experiment showed crops could grow in Mars and moon soil simulant. They originate from a volcano on Hawaii and the Arizonan desert and closely replicate Martian soil.

Although plants did grow, they eventually died and so further research was needed.

Speaking with, Dr. Wieger Wamelink of Altera, a research institute that is part of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, explains the out-of-this-world experiment.

“"We learned that it’'s possible to grow in these soils but we need some improvements. The soils dried out very quickly and there was no organic matter in the soil and this is what brings nutrients to the plants and helps them to grow,"” he says.

"“There are heavy metals in the soils, especially in the moon soil, which includes aluminum. Although plants can grow with many high levels of heavy metals, aluminum is toxic for them.”"

Wamelink improved the water system by using trays instead of pots, mixed organic matter through the soil to improve it and release nutrients for the plants to grow. Aluminum then becomes bound to the organic matter and is no longer a problem for the plant species.

"“Those measures worked out very well. We used a normal potting ground to compare, the type that you can buy at the garden center, and what we found what was growing in the Martian soil was almost the same as on the turf soil.

“"That was even better than I expected and we were able to harvest so many different crops, the only one that didn’'t do well was spinach.”"

Wamelink carefully selected the types of crops keeping in mind what plants will grow successfully as well as produce the best seed to reproduce.

"“The big aim is to feed astronauts or settlers who may be on Mars for one whole year, so they need to eat some fresh produce as well as grow it.

"“I wanted to focus on fruit like tomatoes and was thinking about the seeds from the rye and the garden cress and rocket because we eat the leaves.”"

Food safety testing

The next experiment is about testing the heavy metal content of plants to ensure they are safe to eat.

"“Plants can grow and still take up heavy metals through the soil and this is not noticeable and could obviously be a big problem with something like lead which can cause severe illness if it ends up in the food stream.

“"Now I need to see if it’s safe to eat the plants and make sure the heavy metals are not ending up in the crops.

"“Plants can store things in different organs so maybe in the roots or the seeds, therefore we have to test them all and all parts.”"

Following harvesting, the successfully grown crops have been dried and weighed. Food safety legislation is based on fresh produce so Wamelink needs fresh plants to be able to compare safety standards accordingly.

"“I cannot say if they are safe or not so that’ is why we need fresh material and to start another experiment where we are not only going to look at the heavy metals, but also at all plant content.

"“Plants have all kinds of vitamins in them which are healthy for us but they also have things that can be poisonous in principle. We have to check this out on fresh plants and that will be our new experiment for this year which is why we are crowdfunding to raise €25,000 to continue this research.”"

This new experiment will start in April and the new batch of crops will include potatoes and beans.

If the crops prove to be safe to eat, some crowdfunding contributors will be invited to eat a ‘'Martian meal’' at a special event.

Food safety results are expected around June or July. 

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