Perhaps it’s time to reassess the realities in relying on synthetics. Now, plant specialists have determined that fake Mars soil grows safe food. In case no one else has noticed… the differences between Earth and Mars are huge. Starting with it not having a natural climate or environment that allows even indigenous plant growth, but NASA is determined to discover if the Red Planet, along with the Moon can be colonized. Like the next New World will be worlds apart, and because it is uninhabitable by life forms both ambulatory and root bound, these colonies would be totally devoid of anything natural. So much for those who insist on organic food, though the market for synthetics will be massive there if future plans succeed.
In 2014, NASA announced that the nutrients required for plant growth are present in the soil of Mars. Not in the quantities plants from Earth are accustomed to, but tests show that they are present for utilization. Some say that this obstacle is not so bad, we have plenty of soil types here on Earth lacking in crop elements that can be adjusted with amendments. Surely, this challenge will be overcome up there too. After all, man in his ultimate wisdom, and penchant for perseverance, has conquered everything else to date. Oh, there are exceptions… disease, super weeds, and corruption. Those seem to be out of control. As does the invention of more and more synthetic things.
So, they created simulated space soil to see if they can get food plants to live in it. The first experiment on 840 plants grown in synthetic Mars and Moon soil, versus real Earth soil of poor nutrient quality ran for a mere 50 days. Did they grow anything that would mature in 50 days? Nope. Did they give the plants the kind of climate needed to do well? Nope.
NASA researchers tried growing 14 kinds of plants in 3 different pitiful soils at 60 degrees. No surprise that more plants died than survived, especially in lunar soil that holds no moisture at all. Tomatoes at 60 degrees for almost 2 months? Highly unhappy campers! Why waste the seeds, planting materials, and greenhouse space? Really makes one wonder who paid for this brilliant exercise in futility. Any farmer or seasoned gardener could have told them it was a wasted effort before even considering soil quality.
The Moon will definitely not support crops in a climate dome without imported growth media – only 20% of the plants lived the full 50 days. Even if they do figure out how to amend it to overcome it’s shortcomings, there will be starvation on Mars if Martian soil does indeed grows safe food with a 65% crop harvest potential. However, under the same growing conditions the low nutrient soil gathered from Europe’s Rhyne River area of this planet suffered a 50% crop loss. Whatever the survival count was in any of these inferior soils, why not complete the grow? People can’t eat tomato and cereal plant seedlings. Another 60 days, and they would have known if the development of food took place. Instead, they stopped at the emergence of a few leaves and flowers.
A group of horticulturalists at Wageningen University in the Netherlands set out to complete the experiment they started working on in 2013 using NASA’s simulations. Now the question is will the food be toxic to humans. Extraterrestrial soils have huge amounts of heavy metals in them. On top of that, gravity is totally different on these other planets than on Earth. This could very well affect the way plants take up and distribute heavy metals in their foliage and fruits. So even their work is very incomplete, though they have grown food plants to the point of fruiting.
Preliminary plant analysis of Wageningen of simulated crops show that plants grown in the heavy metal contaminated fake Mars soil pass the safe levels given by the US FDA and the Dutch Food Agency. Their test group crops grown in regular potting mixes have higher heavy metal content than the synthetic extraterrestrial counterparts. Something the team reports as surprising, though all soils contain some heavy metals, as do the plants growing on them, so there would be some presence in soilless mix ingredients.
“for some heavy metals, the concentrations were even lower than in the crops grown in potting soil.”
But these were all grown in Earth’s gravity, and cannot even begin to provide a clue as to what will really happen on the Moon or Mars. Somehow this seems to be super important. Do they just send them up there with a promise shaped on synthetic materials grown in a highly out of sync with reality test? How reassuring.
To date the Dutch researchers have succeeded in raising 10 cereal and vegetable crops, but only by adding organic matter. Not that there is anything organic on the Moon or Mars to compost. Rumor has it that the ‘organic matter’ is synthetic human manure. Fake poo used to simulate the real thing in synthetic extraterrestrial soil.
Naturally, the manure in these planned colonies on Mars and the Moon will be totally real feces. Yes, just like the stranded astronaut in the movie, The Martian. As it turns out, it’s a good thing he was only growing food for himself. The book author later discovered that eating food grown with another person’s poo spreads pathogens. Does that mean that it’s each man (or woman) for himself in outer space? Oh, someone will come up with a poo clarifying process, chemical, or machine before this progresses that far. It doesn’t exist yet, because edibles on Earth cannot be grown on biosolid fertilized soils for one year after application.
So far they’ve tested rye, peas, radish, and tomatoes for toxicity. Radishes test the highest for heavy metal contamination, though it is still within safe level guidelines. The fast-growing root veg contained higher levels of nickel, aluminum, and iron, though they have no idea if this was due to testing unwashed produce, or if it comes from the interior flesh. They didn’t wash them first?
The research group currently has a crowdfunding campaign in progress hoping to raise the funds to test the other 6 crops for edibility. What else have they coaxed to thrive in synthesized extraterrestrial soil? Potatoes, cress, carrots, green beans, arugula (rucola), and one more food not identified in sources.
They’re looking forward to seeing how the harvests taste compared to the same things grown in Earth soil. What’s the hurry? No one is heading to Mars to live for another 10-15 years. In the meantime, those radishes need retesting after a proper bath. In fact, the whole lot needs more conclusive testing. “Preliminary analysis” does nothing to prove that fake Mars soil grows safe food. How can they say it does? We’re learning that cheap, preliminary testing doesn’t reveal the true chemical and toxin levels in food grown here on our planet. (See page 28, Garden Culture Magazine, Issue 10 US/CA.)
No, fake Mars soil grows safe food is not ready for prime time. It’s not even ready for Martian time. Preliminary toxicity testing is not a reliable reading, especially if using an unbuffered testing method. Hopefully, they realize this, and will find adequate funding for accurate and validated testing. Lead, cadmium, and arsenic toxicities are well worth further testing. So is the use of real human feces. It’s the only way to know if the food is safe for human consumption, or not.