One day, astronauts may consume salad produced in asteroid dirt. Researchers say that chili pepper, pink radish and romaine lettuce plants flourished in combinations of peat moss and artificial asteroid soil.
In the past, researchers have attempted to cultivate plants using lunar soil (SN: 5/23/22). New study concentrated on “carbon – containing chondrite meteorites, known to be rich in volatile compounds – water in particular,” according to Sherry Fieber-Beyer, an astrogeologist at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. ” Nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus are three essential elements for plant growth that can be found in abundance in these meteorites and the asteroids from which they originated. The pulverization of asteroids of this kind might potentially provide a ready supply of farming material for use in space, and this could be done as part of efforts to mine space.
Steven Russell, one of Fieber-graduate Beyer’s students, was given a piece of material that she had acquired that was an exact replica of the composition of the space rocks. I responded by saying, “All right, grow me some plants.”
One of the ISS’s resident horticulturists, an astrobiologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in Wisconsin, selected three varieties of chili pepper, lettuce and radish for his research. His research team, evaluated the growth of plants cultivated only in peat moss, artificial asteroid soil, and various combinations of the two mediums.
Peat moss has the ability to promote water retention while also keeping the soil flexible. The plants were successful in growing in all of the mixes that included peat moss. On its own, however, faux asteroid soil became compacted and was unable to retain water; hence, plants were unable to grow in it.
Next, Fieber-Beyer is going to experiment with planting hairy vetch seeds in the fake asteroid dirt, wait until the plants have died, and then incorporate the decomposing plant materials throughout the soil. She believes that doing so could prevent the soil from being compacted. In addition, seeds weigh significantly less than peat moss, making it much simpler to transport them to outer space for use in any potential future farming endeavors.