Your salad, grown on Mars, may soon be a reality
New insights released on Friday show that plant seeds taken to Mars on the International Space Station (ISS) and spent six months there grow only slightly slower when back on Earth, raising the prospect of growing food on the red planet.
Two kg of rocket seeds were on board the ISS with British European Space Agency astronaut, Tim Peake, as part of his Principia mission. They absorbed up to 100 times more radiation than on Earth and were subjected to intense vibrations from the stresses and strains of space travel.
When the seeds returned to Earth, 600,000 children from schools and groups in the UK took part in an experiment, supported by the UK Space Agency, to plant them and monitor their growth, comparing it to that of seeds that had remained on Earth.
The agency said that while the space seeds grew more slowly and were more sensitive to ageing, they were still viable. It suggests that, by taking sensible steps to protect the seeds on their journey, it should be possible to grow plants in space or on another planet for humans to eat.
Peake said: “In one of the largest and most inspirational experiments of its kind, more than half a million young people collected reliable data to help the scientists at Royal Holloway investigate the effects of spaceflight on rocket seeds”.
“When humans travel to Mars, they will need to find ways to feed themselves, and this research helps us understand some of the biology of seed storage and germination which will be vital for future space missions”, he added.
The research published in journal Life was led by Gerhard Leubner and Jake Chandler from Royal Holloway and Alistair Griffiths from the Royal Horticultural Society.
Chandler said: “Transporting high quality seeds to space and beyond will be crucial for growing plants that support human exploration of space, Mars and other worlds. Our study found that a six-month journey to space reduced the vigour of rocket seeds compared to those that stayed on Earth, indicating that spaceflight accelerated the ageing process”.
“Thus, while we should carefully consider protecting seeds from potentially harmful factors including space radiation and mechanical vibration, the seeds remained alive, and the prospect of eating home-grown salad on Mars may be one small step closer”.
The RHS tasked 8,600 schools and groups across the UK to take part in the controlled study, documenting their results as part of a project called Rocket Science.