Sustainable Agriculture on Mars Can Help on Earth,
Jacklyn Green and Roger Kern,
spouses and cofounders of Agate Biosciences, have made it their life’s work to
pursue growing food on the Moon and Mars. (photo courtesy of Roger Kern)
Gene Giacomelli, Jacklyn Green and Roger Kern say that among the many reasons
to pursue agriculture on the Moon and Mars is what will be learned to improve
sustainable food production on Earth.
we do has Earth applications,” says Kern, who cofounded Agate
with Green. “Principles learned from the space program
can be applied to urban agriculture—sustainability, safety, quality.” The
key to agricultural production on other planets is conservation, he says. This
includes water and energy conservation, along with fresh water production.
Recycling will be a necessity, not a luxury—and everything will be recycled. “There
will be composting in space,” Kern says. “By necessity, we will have to recycle
grown on the Moon and Mars would be grown hydroponically, and Kern predicts
that one day, aquaponics operations will find a home on Mars.
1996, Kern and Green came up with a design concept for a Mars Greenhouse Experiment Module
(GEM), which is
the size of a breadbox and is intended for delivery to the Martian surface on a
robotic platform to demonstrate that plants can grow on Mars. In addition to
lessons and applications gleaned from GEM, which can be applied to Earth, Kern
also sees this as a first step toward human habitation on Mars. “It’s
(GEM) an outgrowth of a science fair project I did in eighth grade,” Kern says.
“It’s been a lifelong interest of mine.” This
interest led him to obtain a Ph.D. from the University of California in plant growth,
and later to working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on issues of microbes on
I’m working with Gene (Giacomelli) to see where we can go,” he says.
has her Ph.D. in astronomy from The University of Texas at Austin and
specializes in solar system dirt. She has over 20 years of experience working
with NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Now,
through Agate Biosciences, Kern and Green provide scientific and engineering
consulting for greenhouse hydroponics. They, along with Giacomelli and others,
are optimistic that agriculture will take root on the Moon and Mars, and that
food production on Earth will benefit from this new frontier.
believes that one of the most significant applications for extraterrestrial
food production is water conservation. All food produced on the Moon and Mars
will have to come from a closed system, with 100 percent of the water used
being recycled. “This
could push the envelope in some way to utilize water more efficiently,” he
how close are scientists to making agricultural production on places other than
Earth a reality? Referring to the recent harvest of romaine lettuce on board
the International Space Station, Giacomelli says the technology for
extraterrestrial production already exists. But technology is still lacking in
its ability to build habitats on the Moon and Mars, and the heavy lift rocketry
that would be required for a project of this scope is simply not a reality yet.
these current obstacles, Giacomelli hopes that agriculture can be established
on the Moon in the next 25 years.
who feels that an ability to produce food on Mars is necessary for future human
habitation on the planet, could become reality as early 2030. But agriculture
will happen on the Moon before it does on Mars. “The
Moon is a stepping stone on the road to Mars,” he says. Three
closed loops—oxygen, fresh water and biomass—will be required to grow food in
extraterrestrial environments, says Giacomelli. But the cost is currently
getting in the way.
will be a slow process,” he says. “Our priorities are elsewhere at the moment.” But
with climate change, greater demands for food production and continued
population growth, there will be renewed focus on food and water, he predicts. “This
points to life support on other planets,” he says. “And we will learn more
about Earth.” Giacomelli
also sees a renewed interest in sustainable agriculture, which makes him happy. “Our
entire society has diminished in agriculture,” he says. “We have limits on
education to produce food—it is changing, and it needs to change.”
see now as the founding of Martian agriculture,” says Kern, who anticipates the
beginning of Martian agriculture starting with a robotic spacecraft containing
greenhouse aspects landing on Mars.