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Summary

Areas of Science
Difficulty
 
Time Required
Long (2-4 weeks)
Credits
Sabine De Brabandere, PhD, Science Buddies
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Abstract

To be able to live on Mars, humans need breathable air, clean water, and nutritious food. Spacesuits can provide oxygen to breathe, ice on Mars can be a source of water, but how could we get nutritious food? Today's astronauts bring food with them. But a manned trip to Mars would require food that was either successfully grown in space or on Mars, as taking the extra weight of food for such a long time—it takes 6–9 months one way—is just too costly. In this project, you will explore how regolith—the ground cover of Mars—can be used to grow food.

Since there are no living organisms on Mars, the ground cover does not contain any organic material. As "soil," by definition, contains organic material, the ground cover of Mars cannot technically be called "soil." At the time of writing this project, in late 2020, samples of Martian ground cover have not been returned to Earth, but information gathered by Martian rovers give us a good idea of its characteristics. The ground cover on Mars is called regolith, which is a loose, heterogeneous mixture of broken rock and dust. To allow for further exploration, samples simulating Martian regolith are available for purchase on Earth.

You might be wondering how regolith can be used to produce food. On Earth, most plants get the essential nutrients they need from the organic material found in soil. Regolith does not contain organic material, but could it support plant growth in other ways? Here are some questions you might want to explore:

The question that you decide to explore is the starting point of the scientific method. Conducting a fair test is one of the most important ingredients of doing good, scientifically valuable experiments. To ensure that your experiment is a fair test, you must change only one factor at a time, while keeping all other conditions the same. For example, if you would like to explore the effect of fertilizers, all other factors, like the type of plants, the amount for water given, light conditions, etc., need to be the same for the different groups studied.

Remember that quantitative data is better than qualitative data. To assess plants quantitatively, the number of leaves, the height of the plant, the size of the largest leaf, and the mass of the root system are all quantitative measurements.

Do not forget to represent your data in graphs, give a clear conclusion, and look for ways to delve deeper into the subject.

icon scientific method

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Careers

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There is a fraction of the world's population that doesn't have enough to eat or doesn't have access to food that is nutritionally rich. Food scientists or technologists work to find new sources of food that have the right nutrition levels and that are safe for human consumption. In fact, our nation's food supply depends on food scientists and technologists that test and develop foods that meet and exceed government food safety standards. If you are interested in combining biology, chemistry,… Read more
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Not all dirt is created equal. In fact, different types of soil can make a big difference in some very important areas of our society. A building constructed on sandy soil might collapse during an earthquake, and crops planted in soil that doesn't drain properly might become waterlogged and rot after a rainstorm. It is the job of a soil scientist to evaluate soil conditions and help farmers, builders, and environmentalists decide how best to take advantage of local soils. Read more

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Cite This Page

General citation information is provided here. Be sure to check the formatting, including capitalization, for the method you are using and update your citation, as needed.

MLA Style

De Brabandere, Sabine. "Growing Plants on Mars." Science Buddies, 4 Mar. 2021, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/SpaceEx_p028/space-exploration/growing-plants-mars. Accessed 21 Mar. 2022.

APA Style

De Brabandere, S. (2021, March 4). Growing Plants on Mars. Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/SpaceEx_p028/space-exploration/growing-plants-mars
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Last edit date: 2021-03-04
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