Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Can We Farm Mars? Should We?

We’ve found evidence of flowing water. Next up: Planting crops? /

As a gardening (and eating) fanatic, the first thought I had when I moved into my new home was, “Can I make my property fertile? And if so, how?” I explored ways to improve my soil so that my harvest would be more abundant. I built trellises so my beans and grapes would have places to climb. I removed those malicious pest species that every farmer despises. More simply and more beautifully: I became a husband to my land.

When reading the recent NASA news of liquid water flowing on Mars, the question came back to me: “Can we make Mars fertile, and if so, how?”

Just think: We could be the workers of land never before touched by life, effectively imbuing that land with life. Imagine eating a red Martian apple grown from red Martian soil looking up at a night sky full of sparkling dots, one of those being Earth. Not only is it tasty, it’s beautiful.

I’m not by any means the first person to ask questions of Mars’s fecundity. It’s something that has been on the minds of scientists since interplanetary travel became a possibility—and among writers long before that. And now many space agencies, both federal and private, are being more intentional about how to answer those questions. However, when we talk about plant life on Mars, we have to discuss certain limitations.

The first problem we encounter is the most obvious; Mars is really, really cold. The average surface temperature is approximately -60°C (-80°F), but the temperature there is also incredibly variable, ranging from 20°C (70°F) on an equatorial summer day to -125°C (-195°F) on a winter evening at one of the planet’s poles.

I know what you’re thinking: “Let’s ...

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Also in this Issue

Issue 33 / October 15, 2015
  1. Editor's Note from October 15, 2015

    Issue 33: Martian gardens, making choices in Colombia, and a relatively instantaneous trip. /

  2. The Breaking with Dawn

    Can I have the meteor shower and the sunrise? Must a moment cost me? /

  3. A Ray of Light: The Timeless Life of a Photon

    The journey of 15 quintillion miles would seem instantaneous. /

  4. The Autumn

    ‘For every breath that stirs the trees, /Doth cause a leaf to fall.’ /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Issue 33: Links to amazing stuff.

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