Science - June 5, 2015

First 'space radishes' harvested

Rob Ramaker

The first radishes grown in Mars-like and moon-like soil have been harvested. Alterra ecologist Wieger Wamelink makes another small step in exploring the possibilities of extraterrestrial agriculture.

Radish grown in Martian soil. Photo: Wieger Wamelink

Two years ago, Wamelink did his first experiments with growing crops on Martian and lunar soil. He ordered these soils, mimicing the surface of these celestial bodies, from NASA. On the lunar soil, the plants germinated but they hardly grew. The tests on Martian soil samples were more successful. However, it became apparent that both soils were very poor.

In the follow-up experiment Wamelink therefore fertilized the soils with organic matter - small cut grass. In addition, the soils were kept moist to prevent dehydration. This proved successful. By now, the first extraterrestrial radishes have been harvested. But they won't be eaten. The soils contain a relatively large amount of heavy metals, and although Wamelink does not expect these metals to end up in the plants, he prefers to stay on the safe side.

Wamelink is not the only Wageningse scientist doing 'space agriculture research'. Leo Marcelis studies the effects of low gravity and artificial light on the growth direction of plants and Tom Dueck works on the best design for a mini-greenhouse for astronauts.

Read more about this research