Heinz launched the “Mars version” tomato sauce. What does it take to grow food on Mars?

"Where are we going to fly?"

"I plan to go to the pier and order the whole fries later."

How can the whole fries not be served with ketchup? Here comes the Mars version of tomato sauce.

On November 9, the food company Heinz launched the "Mars version" of tomato sauce . Fourteen astrobiologists at the Aldrin Institute for Space Research took 9 months to plant the "Martian version" of tomatoes in a soil, temperature, and water environment similar to that of Mars.

Team leader Andrew Palmer said:

Prior to this, most of the efforts under Mars simulation conditions were short-term plant growth studies. This project focuses on long-term food harvesting.

Why grow tomatoes under simulated Martian conditions? After all, astronauts cannot live on pre-made food and lettuce alone.

▲ Mike Massimino.

Before the "Mars version" ketchup, the "earth version" ketchup has surpassed the earth and entered the solar system as the main condiment for dehydrated food in space missions. Mike Massimino, a former NASA astronaut and professor of mechanical engineering, is a big fan of Heinz Ketchup. This time he also served as the ambassador of Heinz Ketchup for Mars:

In space, we have a proverb-"The important thing is not the food, but the sauce." We can choose the food we want there, but many dishes are dehydrated and a bit boring, so good sauces always make your meals delicious.

Just recently, the International Space Station harvested the first batch of peppers, and it took 4 months before and after its flowering and fruiting. Although astronauts can use dry food to maintain their lives, long-term operations in zero-gravity space will gradually lose their sense of taste and smell. Stimulating spicy seasonings can effectively help them maintain basic sensory abilities. The astronauts also held a "Taco Party" for this.

In the 2015 science fiction movie "The Martian", the protagonist uses manure to fertilize the Martian soil to grow potatoes, but the reality is not that simple, and it is still difficult to be a farmer on Mars.

▲ "The Martian". Picture from: Douban

The average temperature of Mars is minus 50 degrees Celsius, the air is mainly carbon dioxide, the maximum sunlight intensity is about 43% of the earth, the gravity is one-third of the earth, water (or ice) exists under the surface and cold polar regions. These harsh conditions make it necessary for all plants to grow in heated and pressurized greenhouses, and the atmosphere, humidity and water need to be significantly compensated.

In addition, botanist Paul Sokoloff of the Canadian Museum of Nature pointed out that the arid soil of Mars not only lacks nutrients, but also contains harmful substances such as perchlorate, which must be chemically removed before plants can grow there.

▲ Picture from: getty images

It is better to think in the opposite direction. It may be possible to create a suitable environment through artificial light sources, soil fertilization and toxin removal.

Since 2017, astrobiology students at Villanova University have been pursuing their "Martian Garden" project , investigating which plants and vegetables can grow in a simulated Martian soil rich in iron oxide. They have tested more than 45 different kinds of plants.

▲ Lettuce growing under artificial light. Image from: getty images

These students created a greenhouse environment that is friendly to plants and similar to Mars. They ensured that the amount of sunlight received by plants is roughly the same as on Mars, and made some feasible improvements, such as using multi-wavelength LEDs to enhance sunlight, adding potting soil or earthworm excrement to loosen the soil.

They found that lettuce, arugula, spinach, peas, garlic, kale and onions grew vigorously, carrots and potatoes were basically underdeveloped, and sweet potatoes performed well.

A study published in the journal PLOS ONE in 2014 showed that without any fertilizer, tomatoes, wheat, cress, and mustard leaves were in good condition after 50 days of growth in simulated Martian soil, even flowering and producing seeds. These hardy plants grow better in Martian soil or "weathered layer" than in the nutrient-poor soil on Earth.

But the real Martian soil is difficult to be fully artificially simulated, and in order to "grow vegetables" on Mars more efficiently, scientists must weigh the nutrition of crops, the resources needed to grow them, and the time for germination. The "Martian plants" that are currently feasible for simulation may not pass the many thresholds behind.

In the longer term, the real cultivation of agricultural products on Mars means the development and maintenance of new food sources for frequent Mars missions in the future, reducing the future burden of those starting from the earth.

NASA plans to send the first humans to Mars by 2033; SpaceX founder and CEO Musk proposed that he hopes to send humans to Mars in 2024 and build a self-sufficient Martian city by 2050. For this reason, long-term agricultural plans are even more important.

▲ "The Martian". Picture from: Douban

Some people have also put forward the idea of ​​directly "geomorphing" Mars outside of the protective greenhouse, but to change the atmosphere of Mars, it takes hundreds of years to grow oxygen-producing cyanobacteria, lichens, and microorganisms in its soil. All these efforts are still There may be nothing-when microbes are busy creating the atmosphere, the solar wind will continue to blow the atmosphere away, because Mars lacks a magnetic field protected from solar radiation.

Even if people can figure out how to speed up the creation of the atmosphere, the winter on Mars may reach minus 133 degrees Celsius, an unimaginable cold. Heinz Mars Ketchup is not currently on sale, and we also don’t know what it tastes like.

Grapes are not the only fruit.

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