Space may well be the final frontier but it’s a great place to make ketchup. Astrobiologists just grew tomatoes in Mars-like conditions (as in here on Earth, not actually on Mars), and while the unique condiment won’t be up for sale, just know that they did pass Heinz’s quality tests.
Why on Earth are scientists growing space tomatoes, you may ask? It was done as part of an experiment from researchers at the Florida Institute of Technology’s Aldrin Space Institute, who were looking to test the viability of long-term food harvesting on Mars, in contrast to shorter-term plant growth. The experiment also gave the researchers more information about whether the crop (or others similar to it) could be grown in harsher climates right here on Earth.
The researchers grew official Heinz tomato seeds in roughly 7,800 pounds of soil from the Mojave Desert, which resembles the regolith (aka the loose rocky material that sits atop solid rock) on Mars. They confined the experiment to water and weather conditions that were also similar to that of the Martian environment. While temperatures there average about -81 degrees Fahrenheit, they can vary wildly anywhere from -220 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit across different regions and seasons.
According to samples captured by the Phoenix lander, Martian soil has a pH level of 8.3, which is slightly alkaline. Tomatoes grow best in soil that’s a bit more acidic, with a pH of anywhere from 6.2 to 6.8. Despite this discrepancy, however, the soil is still a match (and it still proved successful in this experiment) because of how nutrient-rich it is; it contains nutrients vital to growing healthy plants like magnesium, sodium, chlorine, and potassium. The soil of the Mojave Desert closely resembles Martial soil chemically, which is why it was perfect for the experiment.
Amazingly, this isn’t humanity’s first instance of space agriculture, though. Crew members aboard the International Space Station recently grew chili peppers in the Advanced Plant Habitat. Astronaut Megan McArthur shared the fruits of that labor on Twitter last month, with pictures of the peppers on the space tacos the crew made. We bet they were delicious!
via Popular Science