Mars image (NASA)
Mars image (NASA)NASA

A US scientist is trying to grow asparagus on alien rocks such as meteorites, to prepare humans for space farming. In an attempt to grow microorganisms in space, Michael Mautner, a Virginia Commonwealth University researcher, hopes to terraform Mars and cultivate crops in Martian soil that would make food, drink, and even oxygen available for future human settlements.

If humans colonize Mars, transporting food from the Earth will not be realistic, therefore asteroids and meteorites that often contain nitrates, phosphate and even water can help provide nourishment to plants.

"People have been talking about terraforming, but what I'm trying to do is give some concrete evidence that it's possible to do this, that it's possible to grow in extraterrestrial materials. What I've found is that a range of microorganisms—bacteria, fungi, and even asparagus and potato plants—can survive with the nutrients that are in extraterrestrial materials," Motherboard magazine quoted Michael Mautner.

"The conditions outside Earth are presumably anaerobic—that's an order of magnitude harder to do. But, if we can find things that can grow in extraterrestrial materials under Earth conditions, you can start to talk about it. We can maybe start to use those materials in artificial, oxygen-containing environments," he said.

The privately-funded Mars One mission intends to have a human colony in Mars within a decade. Meanwhile, Nasa believes human settlement on the red planet will only be possible by 2030. One of the challenges is providing food to sustain the people on the planet. At present, it costs close to £14,000 ($23,000) to transport a kilogram of food into space.

Mautner has come up with a solution where humans can grow their own food. An asteroid is a source of nutrients as they often contain nutrients, organic carbon, and even water. He plans to find many different plants and extraterrestrial soils thereby making it more productive for plants to grow.

"Given the estimated amounts of asteroid materials shows that these resources can support trillions of humans comfortably in our solar system, and eventually, in billions of other solar systems throughout the galaxy, " Daily Mail quoted Mautner as saying.

The experimental alien farming is conducted on Earth with 62 percent of higher gravitational force and oxygen-rich atmosphere. The researcher hopes that the future Mars settlers may consume man-made food to survive on Mars. Till now, Mautner has successfully managed to grow both asparagus and potato samples in his artificial alien soil.

Previous work from NASA has confirmed that all types of plants can grow in reasonably low or microgravity environments. Mautner's next major experiment would be to include pressure chambers to create different atmospheric conditions for the plants.