Ad Astra Per Asparagus? Meteorite-Based Farming Techniques May Feed The Future

We may have the spacecraft power to get to Mars and beyond, but what will our pioneering astronauts eat when they've exhausted all the freeze-dried fruit and packaged proteins they've brought there? With long-duration space travel becoming a possibility, one "astroecologist" is assessing the means to create space-sustainable meteorite dust.

Michael Mautner, a Virginia Commonwealth University researcher, told Vice magazine that even barren extraterrestrial environments could feasibly harbor enough nutrients to grow bacteria, fungi, asparagus or potato plants. The phosphates, nitrates and water present in asteroids or meteorites attest to this, and Mautner has experimented by growing asparagus plants in ground-up meteorite dust, similar to soil, with some success.

However, his plans have one major issue to surmount: "The conditions outside Earth are presumably anaerobic {sans oxygen}—that's an order of magnitude harder to do," Mautner said. "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."

Eventually, a "ranking system" of the different types of space "soil" could be tested on, and the preferable mixtures of adaptable microorganisms and extremophilic elements could be sent out via rocket in attempts to terraform new worlds.


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