Dinner on Mars: How to grow food when humans colonize the red planet


Under the weight of the pandemic lockdowns, food safety consultants Lenore Newman and Evan Fraser embarked on a thought experiment. Using their analysis of improvements on earth, they determined to determine what it might take to feed a human colony on Mars in the yr 2080.

Both Fraser and Newman took inspiration from what’s already been developed right here on planet earth to envision their Martian colony. From greenhouse applied sciences to nanotechnologies, they foresee the chance of a smart, tasty and well-balanced food regimen on Mars — together with high-quality cheeses, scotch and sashimi. 

Newman and Fraser are co-authors of Dinner on Mars: The Technologies that may feed the Red Planet and Transform Agriculture on Earth. They spoke to IDEAS host Nahlah Ayed about the classes they realized on how to enhance our battered food methods on Earth.

Here is an excerpt from their dialog.

What is it that impressed this complete dinner on Mars thought experiment in the first place? 

EF: Well, it was March twentieth or so, 2020. And I used to be — like all people else on the planet — a mix of anxious, scared, bored and terrified about this yawning rift that opened up in entrance of me. 

As I recall, Lenore, I began texting you and [said], ‘I feel fascinating issues are taking place, however I’m actually bored and I’m scared. What do you suppose?’ And one textual content each different day led to 30 or 40 texts an hour, and led to a dialog that was basically, ‘nicely, we will not journey anyplace bodily, however perhaps there’s someplace we are able to go to in our creativeness.’ 

This was at the level the place Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos have been blasting off of their rockets — and so everybody was speaking about house exploration. We thought perhaps we should always simply think about a foolish imagining: what would a dinner be like if we ever made it to Mars?

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson drinks champagne after flying into house — a voyage he described as the ‘expertise of a lifetime.’ He hopes to usher in an period of profitable house tourism. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP through Getty Images)

At some level, after about six weeks of this, we realized this wasn’t a foolish train anymore. It was lethal severe as a result of we have been speaking about actual science, actual points. And then we have been beginning to apply the classes that we have been imagining being performed out on Mars. We began imagining how they may rework food methods right here on Earth. And that is the place issues acquired actually each thrilling and severe in that we aren’t solely imagining how we are going to maintain a brand new era of exploration outdoors of this, the planet that we name house, but in addition how we want to change how we eat right here on Earth. 

Evan, if you happen to do not thoughts, paint an image of how inefficient the world system is now for creating food. 

EF: So proper now, we have got a really paradoxical scenario at the stage of food safety. We have this bizarre world the place each the variety of hungry and the variety of overweight persons are rising on the planet. So that is a insane statistic in and of itself. 

And then there’s the environmental prices at a world stage of our food system. Food is the primary driver in our dropping combat to defend biodiversity. Food is the world’s largest consumer of freshwater and the largest supply of water air pollution. Food creates our agri-food methods, creates a few third of the world greenhouse gases, and we waste a few third of the world’s food…So you add all these issues up collectively and also you suppose there has to be a extra environment friendly method of doing this stuff. And it is that kind of feeling of what might the various be? That led Lenore and I to suppose, ‘nicely, perhaps if we imagined a food system on Mars, we are going to unlock some options for right here on Earth.’

So I’m offered on the concept. I’m imagining the scene that you simply’re creating, however logistically, how is it even potential, Evan? Describe to me the situations on Mars that you simply’d have to deal with in establishing this Martian colony? 

EF: Well, I imply, it is going to be actually exhausting to feed a group on Mars, there isn’t any query in any respect. On one hand, you may have nearly no water, and what little water is, it’s frozen into the regolith — that is a elaborate phrase for basically Martian dust. It’s form of like permafrost would not have a direct analogy however lets say there’s some water crystals frozen in the soil.

There’s carbon dioxide in the environment. There’s method an excessive amount of photo voltaic radiation, however not sufficient photo voltaic power as a result of Mars is loads farther from the solar than Earth, so there’s much less heat there. So it will get actually chilly and you do not have what’s referred to as warmth models that vegetation want to flourish. But you have acquired punishing photo voltaic radiation as a result of it would not actually have a robust environment that removes the radiation. So you have acquired these wild swings in temperatures. It’s typically too chilly. You’ve acquired no natural matter in any respect. You’ve acquired little or no water and an excessive amount of radiation, however not sufficient photo voltaic power. It’s a little bit of a catastrophe.

You cannot ship food to Mars. It’s just too far. You cannot get takeout.– Lenore Newman, co-author of

But you do have issues like carbon dioxide and different fundamental constructing blocks of life. And so I feel when you begin imagining life on Mars, you begin with some kind of algae or cyanobacteria that may eat that regolith, soak up some carbon dioxide and in doing so, it can produce natural matter and oxygen. And if you can begin that course of entering into some kind of tank and scientists on Earth have simulated Martian situations and have gotten cyanobacterias that may eat and flourish below these situations, nicely, then you definitely’ve acquired the fundamental substances on which you’ll be able to construct one thing extra elaborate. 

Lenore, how dangerous are issues if we now have to ponder what may occur on Mars to determine how dangerous issues are right here at house? 

LN: One of the surprises of the pandemic and certainly one of the not-so-wonderful surprises was how extreme the food issues turned and the way shortly they did, and that mainly the world food system went into disaster and has remained in disaster ever since. And actually there’s been loads driving that: the pandemic, ongoing and worsening local weather change after which, in fact, warfare and political discontent. And what these of us in food and agriculture have realized is we have most likely left the period the place food was simple — with “simple” in citation marks. But there have been positively 50 years the place food acquired cheaper and cheaper and simpler and simpler to procure to the level that lots of people on Earth did not have to give it some thought very exhausting.

Co-authors Lenore Newman and Evan Fraser argue if we are able to determine how to maintain ourselves on Mars we are able to understand how to do it on Earth. They discover the logistics to rising food on the red planet of their guide, Dinner on Mars. (Photos submitted by co-authors/ECW Press)

I feel certainly one of the catalysts for this for me was Elon Musk and his dialogue of a metropolis on Mars form of brushed apart the food. Evan and I knew that it was truly a giant query as a result of you’ll be able to’t ship food to Mars. It’s just too far. You cannot get takeout.

We began to notice, thought, that the Earth is changing into much more like Mars in some methods, in that our personal system of takeout in the center of winter, for instance, is breaking down. And as we did this train, we realized fixing these issues for an surroundings the place you don’t have any cushion, the place there isn’t a pure world per say to offer you a hand. You truly begin to clear up these issues on Earth as nicely. And that turned the driving theme of the guide was lots of the modifications you want to make to make food work on Mars truly would actually assist us out right here on Earth as nicely.

Lenore, I perceive you are taking some inspiration from an enormous greenhouse advanced in England referred to as the Eden Project. Can you inform me about that? 

LN: So I went down a really deep rabbit gap about greenhouses. Because the reality is, we do not fully simply farm outdoors on earth, we create little environments for our vegetation. And there have been a couple of very massive experiments to try to convey total ecosystems indoors for varied causes, for pleasure or for scientific experimentation. And certainly one of the ones that impressed me is that this collection of domes in the south of England referred to as the Eden Project that encloses a collection of biomes in an previous mining pit. 

The Eden Project close to St. Austell, England, covers an space about the measurement of 35 soccer fields. The biomes are house to tons of of hundreds of thriving vegetation and bushes. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

LN: It’s principally for instructional functions. It’s not a real closed system as a result of they do usher in water and air and such but it surely does serve to present that one can create these little communities of vegetation that assist one another indoors. And we have seen that in the Victorian period. It was very talked-about to create these form of pleasure domes stuffed with vegetation and proper again into historical past individuals have been obsessive about rising vegetation out of their very own ranges and that always requires greenhouses. 

Guests on this episode (so as of look):

Lenore Newman is director of the Food and Agriculture Institute at the University of the Fraser Valley and Canada Research Chair for Food Security and Environment.

Evan Fraser is director of the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph.

David Harland is chief world development officer at the Eden Project.

Björn Örvar is co-founder and CSO at ORF Genetics in Iceland.

Cher Mereweather is CEO at Anthesis Provision in Guelph, Ontario.

*Q&A edited for clairty and size. This episode was produced by Nicola Luksic.


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