Lettuce isn’t the only plant that’s been grown in space. This growth medium looks like a gel of some sort.
Lettuce grown on the International Space Station looked so good, astronauts nibbled a taste before NASA declared it safe and nutritious.
Being an astronaut, food-wise, isn’t so bad in Earth orbit. Supplies arrive regularly and include fresh foods. But a mission to Mars will take years. Sending food ahead probably makes sense, but those meals could be five years old or more before the astronauts eat them. Talk about freezer burn.
If you’re prepping for the zombie apocalypse, you might accept that. Store uncooked beans and rice in a nitrogen-filled, sealed container, and they’ll last forever, more or less. So will properly-stored, pure, hard liquor, though you can decide whether sending alcohol to Mars is a good idea.
But, fresh foods will boost morale as well as nutrition, and add variety to what could otherwise be a depressing diet.
Efficient growing techniques must be developed. If astronauts have to spend half their time on cleaning and maintenance in their Mars base (like they’ve done on some ISS missions) they can’t spend a lot more time in a greenhouse instead of exploring, or there’s no point in going to Mars.
(Now, if you want to colonize Mars, the calculations may be different. But, I digress.)
At least Mars will have gravity. Only about a third of Earth’s, and there’s no way to test in that environment until we get to Mars, since the ISS only provides microgravity. If plants grow in Earth orbit, the surface of another planet (or maybe in orbit around another planet) should be easy.
You tend to get challenges in watering your plants,” Dr. Massa said. “Water coats your surfaces. It will clog the pores of things. It will even crawl up the plants if you have too much water.”
Inside the ISS Veggie chamber, the lettuce grew not in soil but in a porous ceramic clay that traps air and water around the roots. “It’s the same material that’s on a baseball field, what you have between the bases.
The researchers also performed DNA analysis to survey what microbes were living in and around the plants grown on the space station. That, too, proved reassuring. The microbes appeared to be similar in diversity to what was seen on Earth, and there were no signs of pathogens like salmonella.” NY Times
In my scifi Mars colony, I gave settlers soil manufactured from cleaned regolith fertilized with, well, whatever organic material was available. European-based settlers in Glory on Mars grew the familiar white potatoes (among other things.) But a second colony, arriving in Born on Mars, brought Chinese and Africans. Lots of today’s trends hint towards the ascendency of these groups, so they’re bound to get to Mars. What do you suppose they’ll bring?
Curious? Find the whole series of my Mars colony ebooks in a value-priced box set at favorite stores.)
NASA astronauts will focus on scientific research. What will Martian settlers do with their days? What would you do?