Why A New Method Of Growing Food On Mars Matters More On Earth

Understanding how to grow crops in the extraordinarily harsh conditions on other planets does more than ensure those colonizing them can feed themselves.

Of course, agricultural conditions on Mars, where it’s extremely cold and dry with precious little oxygen, are much more extreme than those on Earth, where climate change is prompting chronic droughts and a long-term shift to drier conditions that further depletes water supply.

Yet the dirt covering the Red Planet bears striking similarities to sandy terrestrial soil severely damaged by climate change in arid and semiarid regions around the world, including swaths of sub-Saharan Africa, northern China and southern portions of South America – breadbaskets where water scarcity and volatile rainfall patterns have in recent years led to failed harvests and reduced crop yields.

Gonçalves’ work is part of a rapidly growing body of research in space agriculture driven by billions of dollars of investment and the keen attention of governments, policymakers, and the private sector.

He considers soilless, or hydroponic, growing procedures the “Only approach” to safely begin producing food on another planet.

Still, Giacomelli agrees that intercropping could be useful in the eroded soils of Earth, an idea that also intrigues Thomas Graham.

Solutions like greenhouses developed for colonizing other worlds could, according to Graham, be deployed in drought-ravaged areas on Earth “The very next day” after they’re devised.