Like Columbus’ travels and the introduction of the potato to Europe, the efforts to propel human exploration and even colonization of Mars could mean innovation for terrestrial industry and agriculture. “It’s a clean sheet approach that provides reflections on what is really needed to sustain a community somewhere, anywhere,” explained Dr. Groemer. “We use cutting-edge emerging technologies, and what you find with all of the controlled conditions and brain power being applied is that there are applications here on Earth.”
A host of innovations derived from space programs stretches back at least sixty years. More recently, he cited recent experiments that recall scenes from the 2015 movie “The Martian” in which researchers from Wageningen University & Research Centre in the Netherlands raised selective crops in a media that simulates the Martian soil. “The food crops were grown in soil that would otherwise be considered unplantable.” One potential terrestrial application could be to raise the productivity of marginal or barren land, for example.
“What we know about Mars has progressed massively in the past 15 years, and I strongly believe that the first human to walk on Mars is already born,” stated Dr. Gernot Groemer. “We could see permanent human settlement on the Red Planet several generations from now, and they may not be happy eating canned food,” he noted. In addition to the obvious inhospitable conditions beyond Earth, there are a number of less well-known challenges to humans.
“The way our body processes food is different enough to matter a great deal. A person’s sense of taste changes in zero gravity. There are medical implications to different gravity effects,” remarked Dr. Groemer. “In our work we’re verifying whether the ideas and designs to survive on Mars work in practice, and the gaps between theory and practice that we observe range from trivial to serious matters.”
Asked about whether livestock rearing would occur on Mars, Dr. Groemer replied, “Not necessarily.” He listed new technologies related to 3D printing of food or algae-based substrate that could locally provide for both oxygen production and nutrition. “The human stomach does not differentiate between the source of proteins, fats and other nutrients. What we are conducting is a healthy, evidenced-based approach that could have a more restricted environmental footprint than existing methods.”
The Mars efforts do not just break new ground, though Dr. Groemer did relate working on developments in the field as being akin to opening a book with blank pages. They can be characterized as an open-ended, collective effort that could potentially draw from any person or field of study, including the agriculture sector.
“Space is for everyone—it’s not just something to be left to the professionals,” he acknowledged. “There may be a technology, a new approach or an idea that we have not yet considered. I encourage anyone to provide us with their thoughts and to challenge our ways of thinking in order to help humanity reach this goal. In the long run, our generation will be defined by the moment we broke for our cosmic shores,” he concluded.
Dr. Groemer will present “Food Beyond Earth Orbit: Future Human Mars Missions & Nutrition” at the World Nutrition Forum on 13 October 2016.
Do you see common ground between Mars exploration and agriculture? Share your thoughts on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #WNFVancouver
‘Driving the Protein Economy’ will be the theme of the 7th edition of the biennial World Nutrition Forum, the premier animal nutrition event hosted by BIOMIN.