One of the biggest obstacles to inhabiting Mars, aside from the 300 or days of travel and eating space food for that entire duration, will be figuring out what to eat once our needy, pesky species touches down.
And while the possibility of living in a kombucha-based building on a Mars colony may be many, many years away, there will still be a need for a decent food supply on the Red Planet. Needless to say, there are scientists working around the clock to solve this problem.
That's where the Wageningen University and Research Center in the Netherlands comes into play. Three months ago, a team of scientists from Wageningen were able to successfully grow edible plants—including radishes, peas, rye, and tomatoes—out of simulated Martian soil. Hurray for humanity!
But wait! Just because plants grew out of Martian dirt, it's hardly a guarantee of quality, edibility, or safety. The soil on Mars is full of toxic minerals not fit for human consumption, meaning that the Wageningen research team was hardly out of the woods when the plants finally sprouted.
"As soon as we start to eat them, those heavy metals can pose a problem for us," Wieger Wamelink, an ecologist working on the experiments, told The Washington Post back in March. After testing the toxicity levels of their radish, pea, rye, and tomato crops, however, it turned out that those fears, though founded, were not confirmed.
In fact, the concentration of dangerous metals was far less than what they expected. "The four crops are therefore safe to eat and for some heavy metals, the concentrations were even lower than in the crops grown in potting soil," the team said in a press release.
Heck, the researchers are even putting their money where their collective mouth is. "For radish, pea, rye, and tomato we did a preliminary analysis and the results are very promising," Wamelink said added. "We can eat them and I am very curious as to how the tomatoes will taste."
Though they've only tested the metal concentrations of four crops so far, they expect to do further tests on all ten of the plants they've grown, and hope to expose even more humans to the Martian diets. "If we are certain it is safe to eat the potatoes, peas, carrots, garden cress, green beans, radish, rye and tomatoes then we will organize a meal for the sponsors of our research. They will be the first to eat the 'Martian' tomatoes and taste if they have a different flavour from the normal earth tomatoes."
One small step for man, one giant step for plantkind.