Growing on Mars: Soil is not the problem

If humans want to live on Mars for a longer period it will be necessary to grow their own crops there. And what is more logical than growing the crops in a greenhouse on the surface, profiting from the sunlight, as seen in many scientific designs and Sci-fi movies? However, will this be possible giving the high amount of cosmic radiation at the Martian surface level? Wageningen University & Research and the Reactor Institute Delft (RID, TU Delft) have been investigating for some time now the effect of cosmic radiation on Martian surface on plant growth. This revealed that, just like humans, plants also need to be protected from the cosmic radiation.

BSc, student Nyncke Tack investigated the effect of gamma radiation as was recorded by the Mars rover Curiosity on garden cress and rye. "Because the radiation on Mars is much higher than on Earth (230 μGy/d, about 17 times higher than on Earth) the experiment was carried out under strict safety precautions. We conducted the experiment in a special 'led castle' and in a fume hood," says Tack. There were multiple effects of the radiation visible, including brown leaves and dwarfed growth. Besides that, also the harvest was disappointing and lower than the non-radiated control. This was no surprise for principal investigator and space farmer Wieger Wamelink, "I always expected that the radiation would have a negative effect on plant growth as well, but it was never very well investigated so we needed to confirm if this expectation was correct."

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