UA Scientists make Gardens for Mars

Friday, October 23, 2015

Can humans grow food on Mars in the same way that Matt Damon's character did in the popular new movie "The Martian"?

University of Arizona scientists say yes, but not necessarily in the fashion that the hero of the story, Mark Watney, did. Researchers at the UA have been working for years on ways to make a habitat on Mars a reality.

Gene Giacomelli, director of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center at the UA, does research which focuses on making fruits and vegetables in greenhouses, including ones that simulate environments that can be found on the moon and Mars. According to him, it would be possible to make enough food on Mars for about half of the daily calories you would need. The rest would have to be brought in, such as cornmeal, flour or rice.

The most elegant solution that scientists have come up with is to create a greenhouse that would arrive before the astronauts touch down, set itself up, and began to harvest plants and purify water, "as well as having a nice salad when you arrive," said Giacomelli. "Long trip for a salad I guess."   

A lot of his research has application here on earth. Growing plants in greenhouses often requires less raw resources than it would to grow them in a non-controlled environment.

"We would be under such restrictive resources when we go there if we can produce food to keep a person alive, then we can bring that back to Earth for an Earth application," Giacomelli said. "As our resources become less and less available, water energy, nutrition –nutrients for plants - we can already be efficient in using them and keep our food systems going."

Autonomous food harvesting systems, such as ones that would be used in a Martian habitat, have been used on Earth. According to Giacomelli, humans are still better at harvesting fruiting bodies such as strawberries, cucumbers and tomatoes. Robotic harvesting systems are more adept at harvesting leafy greens than humans are, like the vegetables that would be grown on mars.  

Hydroponics would be the best way to do this, according to Giacomelli. Using an entirely water-based system would eliminate the chances that there was something deleterious to the growth of plants in the soil on Mars.


Read the rest of this October 21 Arizona Sonoran News article at :