Students discover how to grow hops on Mars

Research students at a US university have discovered how to grow hops on Mars, paving the way for interplanetary agriculture in the not-too-distant future.

A team of research students at Villanova University believe they have found the perfect crop for Martian soil.

Hops and Rye grow “fairly well” on Martian soil with the help of coffee beans and fertilisers produced back on Earth, according to a student experiment at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.

“I was trying to come with a project for the students to do, a catchy project that would be fairly easy,” Dr. Guinan, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, told the New York Times.

NASA’s Phoenix Mars lander have analysed Martian soil in great detail, and scientists have since replicated its unique characteristics in order to test its crop-growing potential.

Guinan ordered 45kg worth of “Martian soil” — which is made with crushed basalt from an extinct volcano in California’s Mojave Desert.

Guinan set his students to work. Each were assigned their own patch within a greenhouse and asked to grow crops of their choice in order to feed a hypothetical colony of migrants to Mars.

 

“I kept telling them, ‘You’re on Mars, there’s a colony there and it’s your job to feed them. They’re all depending on you.”

While some students chose to grow kale, potatoes or other essential cooking ingredients, others attempted to grow Martian mint and basil to hoe easily future Martians could flavour their food.

One group, however, chose hops. “Because they’re students,” Prof Guinan said.

Martian soil is dense, and dries out quickly, but when vermiculite, a mineral often mixed in with heavy and sticky Earth soils, was added, almost all the plants thrived.

“I don’t know if it’s a practical plant, but it’s doing fairly well,” said Guinan.

The latest findings were made public during a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington D.C. on Friday 12 January.

The first round of experiments grew 14 types of plants including hops, rye, and carrots in Martian soil, simulated lunar soil and Earth soil, while two students will perform a follow-up experiment later this year.

Martian hop harvests have been a subject of intrigue in the beer community for some years now. In 2016, engineers from the Mars Society successfully developed a technology to enable human habitation of the planet Mars, and are selling it on to microbreweries as a means of cutting production costs.

Robert Zubrin, the president of the Mars Society, came up with the space technology, which recycles and stores CO2 generated during beer fermentation which can be used later to carbonate the beer.

Household names are also investing resources into space-age brewing. Budweiser partnered with the Center for Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the organisation that manages the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory, and Space Tango, in November 2017 to conduct a series of experiments as the drinks maker aims to make the first beer brewed on Mars.

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