In Case You Missed It: Farming on Mars

Image (Credit): Matt Damon on Mars in the film The Martian. (20th Century Fox)

Back in a November 2020 article, Science News discussed the difficulties of farming on Mars, noting it was not as easy as Matt Damon’s character made it seem in the film The Martian. In fact, toxins discovered in the Martian soil has proven that growing potatoes with a bit of man-made manure is not possible.

In the article, “Farming on Mars will be a Lot Harder Than ‘The Martian’ Made it Seem,” the author noted that researchers put together a variety of soil samples to match the surface of Mars and determined that the soil that most closely matched the Martian soil was unable to grow vegetation for any length of time. Once that soil was modified to include calcium perchlorate, which makes up about 2 percent of Martian soil, nothing could grow at all. In other words, Matt Damon would have starved if he only had a latrine to support him.

The researchers are testing other possible soil types using materials that can be found on Mars, so Martian potatoes (or at least legumes) may be possible. We will just need to send Mr. Damon back to Mars to test these new approaches.

Extra: The BBC’s Science Focus website posted a more hopeful article around the same time highlighting what can be grown on Mars, but it also outlined a number of problems that will impact Martian farming, including less sunlight, lower temperatures, thinner atmosphere, radiation, and extreme seasonal variations. We don’t always realize how good we have it back here on our home planet.