NASA has launched a number of exploration missions to Mars in the 21st century. Most of these spacecraft have used spectrometers to analyze Martian soil, either from orbit or from the planet's surface. In 2017, researchers in the Netherlands took the next step in the quest to colonize the "red planet." They simulated the soil’s composition and found that earthworms could thrive, and reproduce, in the faux Martian dirt, leading to speculation that growing food might be possible. Fertilizer would be key, and it would have to be made from sterilized human waste, instead of the pig slurry used in the earthworm experiment.
Growing food on Mars:
- Scientists already have some data on the chemical composition of Martian material, based on studying Martian meteorites that have ended up on Earth.
- The soil on Mars is very different from Earth's nutrient-rich environment. The Dutch researchers used a faux Martian soil known as Mars-1A that had been created from volcanic rocks found in Hawaii.
- In 2013, the same team grew more than a dozen crops in the simulated soil, including tomatoes, arugula, peas, rye, radishes, garden cress, quinoa, and chives.