Last year, NASA released evidence of flowing water on Mars—“conveniently” during the same week that Ridley Scott’s The Martian arrived in theaters. Then we all watched Matt Damon fight to survive when his jerk astronaut buddies abandoned him on the red planet. One of the most intriguing aspects of his strategy for survival actually has real-life implications: can we grow food on Mars?
For the past couple years, researchers at the Netherlands’ Wageningen University have been growing vegetables in moon- and Mars-like soil. Using volcanic earth soils and poor-nutrient soils from the banks of the Rhine River, the scientists mimicked our neighboring rocks’ regoliths.
“We had crops and harvested them, tomatoes, rye grains, radish, rocket, cress, but did not taste them yet,” lead researcher Wieger Wamelink told Gizmodo earlier this year. “First we have to make sure that it is safe to eat them because of the heavy metals that are present in the soils and may end up in the plants.”
The test results are in for peas, tomatoes, rye, and radishes, which all exhibited heavy metal concentrations within normal levels. In fact, peas and tomatoes actually tested at lower levels than their earthen counterparts! Six more plants still have to undergo heavy metal testing before anyone can sample those, but the radish is (literally) ripe for the tasting.
There is one other potential safety risk scientists will look for in the pioneering root vegetable, though, as Wamelink noted in a Gizmodo follow-up. “In principle, there could be another problem, but the chances of that are very low and we would taste it immediately,” he said. “Plants may form alkaloids when they are under pressure, in high quantities they could be poisonous to us. We will check on them later, to see if any of them are in the crops, together with vitamins and flavonoids.”
Sir Radish, as I’ve just dubbed him, is scheduled to be eaten this coming Wednesday. Will he taste good? Will this lead to more successful Martian simulations? And, most importantly, will they be able to grow burritos on Mars? Let us know what you think in the comments.
Images: Wageningen University, 20th Century Fox