Author Topic: Scaling Agriculture on Mars  (Read 113509 times)

Offline sanman

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Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« on: 10/18/2014 05:41 PM »
Everyone says that hydroponics will be the main way to grow food on Mars - but will it always be?

If the needs of a growing Martian settlement at some point outstrip what hydroponics can provide or be efficiently scaled to, then where do things go from there? Can Earth-like agricultural cultivation methods be adopted, perhaps under transparent pressurized tents/domes/etc?

What would post-hydroponic Martian food cultivation look like? Will there be a need for a lot of genetic engineering? Could some cultivation methods even be used for bioremediation to convert Martian soil into something more arable, fertile, and crop-friendly?

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/oct/18/humble-potato-poised-to-launch-food-revolution

I was reading about the launch of a new salt-tolerant potato which some claim could revolutionize agriculture. There are also plants like the Chinese brake fern which can absorb arsenic from ground soil, and which has been used in bioremediation of toxic spills.

How will agriculture be progressively scaled up on Mars?





« Last Edit: 10/19/2014 02:13 AM by sanman »

Offline Robotbeat

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #1 on: 10/18/2014 05:48 PM »
Nah, we'll be doing hydroponics because pressurized volume is too expensive. Not big tractor things.

I think we'll be getting 90% of our calories from vats or tubes, though. Scales much better on a place like Mars.
« Last Edit: 10/18/2014 05:49 PM by Robotbeat »
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Offline sanman

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #2 on: 10/18/2014 05:59 PM »
Hmm, couldn't lower-cost pressurized envelopes be used, which aren't man-rated for safety? After all, if one of your agro-tent envelopes springs a leak and the crops in it die, then it's not as serious when there were no people in it. I was imagining a situation where you'd have many such tents, and they might have robots in them to tend the crops. You might even have animals in them too.

It'd be a shame to let all that Martian real estate to go to waste and only use bottled-up hydroponics.

So why not simple inflatable crop-habitats?
« Last Edit: 10/18/2014 06:00 PM by sanman »

Offline Apollo-phill

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #3 on: 10/18/2014 06:23 PM »
Here's maybe what post-hydropinic MArs "greening" may look like ;D ;D


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Offline R7

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #4 on: 10/18/2014 06:26 PM »
How will agriculture be progressively scaled up on Mars?

By building more and more high-tech greenhouses and algae/bacteria/fungi vat food factories.

It'd be a shame to let all that Martian real estate to go to waste and only use bottled-up hydroponics.

That's akin to thinking it's a shame that there aren't lush corn fields in McMurdo Dry Valleys. How much nicer it would be to live in Antarctica if there were!?

The real estate is useless to open field farming, in Martian case the entire planet. Tough but must deal with it.
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Offline sanman

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #5 on: 10/18/2014 06:40 PM »
Heh, yes I know these images seem Heinlein-esque and almost pastoral -- but hey, rockets landing on their tails used to seem that way too in previous decades, and yet they look quite doable now.

There are examples of huge tent structures here on Earth, and newer materials like graphene hold the promise of making super-strong versions of them. Mars is an extremely low-pressure environment, and so inflating and supporting similar structures with atmospheric pressure in its lower-gravity shouldn't seem like an outright fantasy.

As long as you're willing to accept some statistically high rate of pressure containment failure for your crop enclosures, then you could get away with lower-cost enclosures.

I thought one of the key attractions of Mars is its abundant off-world real estate, and so surely there must be a way to make use of that for the purpose of human sustenance there.



Offline Robotbeat

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #6 on: 10/18/2014 06:42 PM »
There are extensive greenhouses in Minnesota and Arizona for growing food hydroponically all year round. Could as well be at McMurdo.
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Offline sanman

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #7 on: 10/18/2014 06:47 PM »

It'd be a shame to let all that Martian real estate to go to waste and only use bottled-up hydroponics.

That's akin to thinking it's a shame that there aren't lush corn fields in McMurdo Dry Valleys. How much nicer it would be to live in Antarctica if there were!?

The real estate is useless to open field farming, in Martian case the entire planet. Tough but must deal with it.

McMurdo Dry Vallies could be made more fertile if there weren't legal treaties in the way, and if enough effort was put into it. When you're living hundreds of millions of miles away from Earth, and if you and your colleagues are numerous enough, then there could be a lot of incentive to develop Martian real estate, perhaps through cheap low-cost pressure envelopes.

And why not use higher-risk less-safe low-cost containment envelopes for crops? I don't know if there will be a PETA on Mars to complain about putting animals at risk, but surely there won't be crop rights activists complaining about putting crops at risk over there. Your crops would be your "canary in the coalmine" which could be kept in the less safe lower-cost areas, because you don't mind putting them at risk.

« Last Edit: 10/18/2014 06:47 PM by sanman »

Offline R7

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #8 on: 10/18/2014 06:53 PM »
McMurdo Dry Vallies could be made more fertile if there weren't legal treaties in the way, and if enough effort was put into it.

Not without greenhouses packing a lot of heating and lighting. If you build those they will be the expensive premium real estate from which you want the best possible yields, meaning you end up with high-tech hydroponics.
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Offline sanman

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #9 on: 10/18/2014 06:53 PM »
There are extensive greenhouses in Minnesota and Arizona for growing food hydroponically all year round. Could as well be at McMurdo.

Yes, "greenhouse" is the better word I should have been using.

Big low-cost inflatable greenhouses. They would take in solar energy, and grow the crops. And because you'd have many of them for redundancy and over-production, you'd be tolerant to containment failure risk.

Maybe places like McMurdo would be the best locations to do a dry-run for such technology, before taking it to the Moon and elsewhere. But there are probably treaties which make such testing illegal. Perhaps Greenland, or Siberia, or the Arctic circle, some other similarly cold and barren wastelands then?

Offline sanman

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #10 on: 10/18/2014 06:59 PM »
Not without greenhouses packing a lot of heating and lighting. If you build those they will be the expensive premium real estate from which you want the best possible yields, meaning you end up with high-tech hydroponics.

What about if you had a higher-pressure CO2 atmosphere -- or some atmosphere that's very friendly to plants, even if it's not friendly to humans. I see what you're saying that such things are practically just hydroponics by any other name, but it seems to me that cultivating under a gaseous atmospheric environment would be more scalable than doing it in a liquid medium like hydroponics does. You want to avoid the expense of hydroponic pumps, etc.

You might need some heating for the nighttime, but during the day you should be soaking up solar rays for heating.

Is there any such thing as "gaseous hydroponics", even here on Earth?

Online Patchouli

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #11 on: 10/18/2014 07:03 PM »
Nah, we'll be doing hydroponics because pressurized volume is too expensive. Not big tractor things.

I think we'll be getting 90% of our calories from vats or tubes, though. Scales much better on a place like Mars.

The future of fully synthetic food has been pitched since the 1950s and hasn't caught on for good reason.

Food must be much more then simple nutrition NASA learned this early in the space program.
It also must be enjoyable to eat as well as this is very important to the morale.

Morale is every bit as important as basic nutrition in the long term as it effects health.

Farming on Mars will likely involve lots of hydroponics or aeroponics early on along with aquaculture.

Some examples of what a Mars food system may look like.





The presence of plants and fish also will contribute to the habitat feeling like home vs sterile and foreboding.
Some plants may even be there mostly for decorative purposes outside of making O2.

Later on when there is use of Martian materials in building structures like large domes we may see more conventional looking farming practices and maybe even use of tractor like things working soil if that proves more cost effective.
« Last Edit: 10/18/2014 07:10 PM by Patchouli »

Offline R7

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #12 on: 10/18/2014 07:06 PM »
liquid medium like hydroponics does.

Hmm, do you have the terminology right? Hydroponics doesn't mean things are grown immersed in liquid. Plants grow in inert substrate like sand. Nutrients are fed in the watering of the plants. The substrate must not be soaking wet, that would kill most crops plants because the roots suffocate.

Quote
Is there any such thing as "gaseous hydroponics", even here on Earth?

Aeroponics
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Online RonM

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #13 on: 10/18/2014 07:27 PM »
Nah, we'll be doing hydroponics because pressurized volume is too expensive. Not big tractor things.

I think we'll be getting 90% of our calories from vats or tubes, though. Scales much better on a place like Mars.

That's right, pressurized volume will be at a premium.

Very long term, after we start terraforming Mars, there will be open fields in a low pressure CO2 atmosphere. Farmers will have to wear oxygen masks, but they won't need pressure suits. However, that could be thousands of years from now.

Offline guckyfan

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #14 on: 10/18/2014 07:48 PM »
Pressurized volume becomes linearly more difficult to build when it grows in size. Also if you want to use natural light instead of first transforming light into electricity and then back into light you don' want too thick walls that attenuate available light.

To grow biomass with plants you need at least temperatures near 20°C for efficient plant growth. That means you need liquid water at that temperature which requires some minimum amount of pressure. Easiest would likely be long stretched structures with quite limited witdth and height.

On the extreme side however I wonder if we could grow plants that provide their own pressure hull. Something like a cactus with quite strong outer skin. You just need to get the water inside and have an unpressurized greenhouse covering the area to keep it warm. It may take some genetic engineering for such a plant to grow and produce useful biomass but we may be able to do it sooner or later.

Keeping places warm is much easier on Mars than in cold places on Earth. It is the thick atmosphere that will suck the heat out. On Mars you only need a barrier to infrared. That could be an extremely thin plastic sheet.

Offline Robotbeat

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #15 on: 10/18/2014 08:11 PM »
Nah, we'll be doing hydroponics because pressurized volume is too expensive. Not big tractor things.

I think we'll be getting 90% of our calories from vats or tubes, though. Scales much better on a place like Mars.

The future of fully synthetic food has been pitched since the 1950s and hasn't caught on for good reason.

Food must be much more then simple nutrition NASA learned this early in the space program.
It also must be enjoyable to eat as well as this is very important to the morale.

Morale is every bit as important as basic nutrition in the long term as it effects health.

Farming on Mars will likely involve lots of hydroponics or aeroponics early on along with aquaculture.

Some examples of what a Mars food system may look like.





The presence of plants and fish also will contribute to the habitat feeling like home vs sterile and foreboding.
Some plants may even be there mostly for decorative purposes outside of making O2.

Later on when there is use of Martian materials in building structures like large domes we may see more conventional looking farming practices and maybe even use of tractor like things working soil if that proves more cost effective.
Im talking about mycoprotein and single-celled protein with methane as a feedstock. Both are used on Earth today, one directly for human consumption and the other as animal feed (could be used for human consumption).

But consider that most of our staple crops are grown far away and are highly processed (in vats and tubes) to the point where they are indistinguishable from something from a vat.

Also, 10% of calories from fresh vegetables (and fish, as a delicacy) is not an insignificant amount by mass. Lettuce and tomatoes grow well in hydroponics but you have to eat a LOT of lettuce and tomatoes before you eat 200-300 calories' worth!
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Offline sanman

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #16 on: 10/18/2014 10:24 PM »
Would it be fair to say that the equatorial regions of Mars would be the most suitable region for agricultural production to be set up?

Or are there other regions more suitable based on other considerations (eg. availability of water)?

Offline mr. mark

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #17 on: 10/18/2014 10:26 PM »
Maybe we can get the SpaceX farmer to weigh in on this..... ;)

Offline Vultur

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #18 on: 10/18/2014 11:49 PM »
On the extreme side however I wonder if we could grow plants that provide their own pressure hull. Something like a cactus with quite strong outer skin. You just need to get the water inside and have an unpressurized greenhouse covering the area to keep it warm. It may take some genetic engineering for such a plant to grow and produce useful biomass but we may be able to do it sooner or later.


Plants growing at ambient Mars conditions might well be workable with arbitrarily good genetic engineering.

I think I'd go in the direction of making their metabolism work effectively at daily highs of single-digit degrees C (at which temperatures water can be briefly liquid at low elevations on Mars) and allowing them to melt their own water (as skunk cabbages can melt snow in spring on Earth) - I'm not sure if the biological pressure hull route could be made to allow the plant to collect CO2 from the atmosphere.

The energy budget for the melting is likely too much for a plant at Mars sunlight, but with this level of hypothetical genetic engineering, we can probably increase the efficiency of photosynthesis.

Offline gbaikie

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #19 on: 10/19/2014 12:34 AM »
Would it be fair to say that the equatorial regions of Mars would be the most suitable region for agricultural production to be set up?

Or are there other regions more suitable based on other considerations (eg. availability of water)?

Without any amount of terraforming, it seems the polar regions would best place to grow plants in a greenhouse- because of the availability of constant sunlight for 1/2 of a Mars year of  668 days- or 334
growing days of sunlight. But you would grow seasonally- not possible in winter.
And there would water available at surface. Maybe if one had nuclear power, one could mine water in winter and grow seasonal crops in other 1/2 of the year. Of course this only works for seasonal crops- if you want grow grapes it could more of problem.

But I think if found a lot of cheap water- ground liquid water, one could terraform by using the water. So if find cheap water in equator, terraform and grow plants at equator.

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