Welcome to Gardeners Off World, my weekly round-up of news for green-fingered space nuts! It’s time to suit up and head out into the solar system 🙂

There’s good news from Prague this week, where a group of “Marsonauts” have been developing a system for growing food for environments with extreme conditions and lack of water, such as Mars. It’s based on aeroponics – growing plants in the air, without soil – and uses 95% less water than regular plant cultivation. The team have successfully grown mustard plants, salad leaves, radishes and herbs like basil and mint, and are moving on to strawberries. The project also has ties to the EDEN ISS team growing food in Antarctica, who supplied some of the seeds.

(Los hispanohablantes pueden leer y escuchar la misma información en el sitio web de EFE: Científicos checos preparan una granja vegetal apta para Marte.)

“The project is part of Vodafone ‘s long-term #development platform, which focuses on future employment opportunities since last year. It is estimated that 85% of the professions we will perform in 2030 do not yet exist. Vodafone offers young people a chance not only to try out these potential future jobs but also provides them with its NB IoT network, enabling smart devices to be connected.”

Prague University of Life Sciences, translation by Google Translate

According to a survey by the Institution of Engineering and Technology earlier this year, nearly half of all children believe that humans will establish a settlement on Mars during their lifetime. Engineering was the third most popular profession with the children, with the top two choices being YouTuber and footballer.

“The idea of living on another planet in the future has led to 46% of children to develop an interest in engineering and technology.”

The Independent
This artist’s concept from NASA depicts astronauts and human habitats on Mars. NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will carry technologies that could make Mars safer and easier to explore for humans.

So what would a Martian settlement look likeInteresting Engineering has a very detailed article on what it would take to get to Mars, and how we might live once we’re there. National Geographic explored the same territory in 2016, resulting in a beautiful Mars supplement which you can view online or download as a PDF file. If you read the article, it has some lovely photos, and you’ll discover that NASA’s Kennedy Space Center has a “regolith bin” – a chamber with fine soil and fans to simulate the dust storms that could trouble Martian explorers.

The topography of Mars, Visual Capitalist

Visual Capitalist has an absolutely lovely visualisation of the topography of Mars, along with an article on the red planet’s surface features, and the three primary criteria for choosing a landing spot for a crewed mission. And BBC News has a video interview with MiMi Aung, the woman in charge of making the helicopter that will be sent on the NASA’s Mars 2020 mission. 

ArchDaily introduces us to the designers who have envisioned a bamboo settlement on Mars:

“The project entitled Martian S.O.L- Seed of Life, started by questioning what kind of material can be light enough to be transported to the red planet and grow to a greater mass once it arrived. In fact, the bamboo plant can withstand the harsh Martian conditions, and extreme instabilities in temperature, without requiring any pollination circuit to reproduce. Moreover, a plant is very likely to grow at an increased rate on Mars because of the abundance of Carbon Dioxide in the composition of its atmosphere. Also efficient as a food source, Bamboo was ideal as an alternative for construction materials on Mars.”

Even once we’ve got to Mars and built our settlement, the challenges just keep coming. BBC Future has been investigating how long space voyages could mess with our minds, especially as the view of Earth through the window dwindles and disappears. The Astrosociology Research Institute thinks we need to bring the social sciences into space exploration, or we risk a city on Mars descending into cabin fever and nationalism. Maybe Martians just need more wine.

Depiction of a future Mars mission by Ren Wicks, commissioned by NASA, 1990

A controversial scientific paper has suggested that microbes be the first Earthly inhabitants of Mars. It argues that deliberately ‘contaminating’ Mars with the bacteria, viruses, and fungi that support many of life’s processes here on Earth could kickstart the terraforming process.

“Life as we know it cannot exist without beneficial microorganisms. To survive on a barren (and as far as all voyages to date tell us) sterile planet, we will have to take beneficial microbes with us.”

Professor Jose Lopez, Nova Southeastern University
Heinz Mars Farm billboard
Heinz Mars Farm billboard

In The Martian, Mark Watney gets to the point where he runs out of ketchup and begins to season his potatoes with Vicodin. So we need to make sure that doesn’t happen!

[I sooooo wish this Heinz campaign was real, but it is just a concept created for an award, around the Heinz 150th anniversary celebrations.]

Well! This has been an action-packed EVA, so it’s time to head back to the airlock, rehydrate a nice (?) cup of tea, and pack the spacesuit away until next week’s exciting edition of GoffW. See you then!