Led by Andrew Palmer, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, a team from the Aldrin Space Institute in Florida (USA), using seeds contributed by Hines, was able to grow tomatoes in conditions similar to those on the Red Planet in a closed, artificially lit facility.
The team spent more than 2,000 hours first on a pilot study of 30 plants, then proceeded to grow about 450 plants in individual buckets, working closely with Heinz throughout the process.
question to answer
The main purpose of this research is to help “understand what is needed to produce food on Mars,” Palmer told Eve from Melbourne (Florida’s east coast) in an interview with Zoom.
Palmer says that science must have answered that question before colonization of Mars becomes a reality, which is expected in about 30 years, because one of the most complex problems is the problem of colonists’ food.
He adds that Mars is seven months away from our planet, and with what is known so far about its surface, it is unthinkable to produce plants like Earth.
“Not with that atmosphere, that temperature and that radiation,” asserts this scientist who glimpsed a scene he realizes today seems like science fiction: He put facilities like the Red House on Mars, where his team had grown tomatoes, and left it. I ran agricultural robots before the settlers were expelled.
These robots are something Florida Tech students are already working on, he says, as the Florida Institute of Technology is known, to which the Aldrin Space Institute belongs, and which owes its name to astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who along with Neil Armstrong, went to the moon on the Apollo 11 mission.
Although Palmer believed that most of the food the colonists would obtain would be prepared and arrived from Earth, a “complementary diet” such as vegetables that could be grown on Mars would also be necessary.
In this regard, he says his team is already considering experimenting with “a couple more vegetables,” as well as continuing to explore growing tomatoes to improve them.
Rigoletto and LED light
The project ran for two years, of which approximately six months is what it took to grow tomatoes, from planting to harvesting, in the so-called Red House, installed in the advanced manufacturing and innovative design center of Florida Tech, in the town of Palm Bay.
About 7,800 pounds (more than 3,500 kilograms) of regolith, a type of dust from the Mojave Desert (USA) with properties similar to today’s Martian soil, and powerful LED lighting were used to grow tomato plants.
Constant temperature control and regular watering also helped the tomatoes grow optimally.
“It’s rich and smells great,” Palmer says when asked about these tomatoes that Heinz made a special “ketchup” that, since it’s experimental, only a few people associated with the company will be able to taste. It will not be marketed.
“Mars’ Edition,” with Heinz’s Zeta ending in place of the ending bearing the word “Mars,” is the further result of one of the largest and longest-running investigations into challenges and opportunities. to produce food on the red planet.
“One of our biggest challenges is how to grow in less-than-ideal soil conditions, and this project can help us figure out ways to address this problem,” Kraft Heinz Chief Agriculture Officer Gary King said in a statement.
According to Palmer in response to a question from Efe, the experimental cultivation of tomatoes in Martian conditions could also help in difficult situations that might occur on Earth due to weather or other factors.
The astrobiologist, as Florida Tech calls it, stresses that the advantage of working with a well-known food brand is that they now know not only that tomatoes can be grown in an environment similar to that of Mars, but that they are also safe to consume.
In the statement, King explained that of the four tomato varieties in the extensive Heinz seed catalog that were shortlisted for the trial, two were eventually selected in order to obtain a “bigger yield.”
Palmer said that although the project produced hundreds of tomatoes, the expanded program, unlike the smaller pilot effort, produced fewer tomatoes than expected, which he sees as a sign of the challenges of getting proper lighting, temperature and watering. .
“This process is practically in its infancy,” asserts the scientist, who, now that it is over, asserts that it poses more challenges than he initially expected.
“But that’s no reason to believe we can’t do that,” he says confidently.
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