Author Topic: Scaling Agriculture on Mars  (Read 113116 times)

Offline spacenut

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #40 on: 12/29/2014 02:43 PM »
Mars has some atmospheric pressure, so pressure for plants might not be a problem.  The equator on Mars is about 32 degrees F, so cold tolerant plants could grow at the equator like in the tundra areas of earth.  Reindeer eat this stuff, and it could be harvested mechanically and fed to Reindeer for meat.  They might could even grow cold tollerent wheat or corn genetically developed.  All this could grow outside greenhouses as long as water was available.  Plants could be harvested by pressurized electric tractors. 

I also know of a company locally that has 20 acres under greenhouses.  They grow starter veggatable plants, and flowers for sale at places like Lowe's and Home Depot.  It is not impossible to build whole cities under greenhouses connected by covered trailways for carts to move on.  Using iron, aluminum, or other resources found on Mars, structures could be built for colonists on a continuous basis.  Farming expanded, resource exploration, structure manufacturing could all keep colonists busy for years.  Once something is found or could be made in the lower gravity of Mars that could be traded with Earth, then they could eventually become self sufficient.  Mars could become the launching point for further exporation in the asteroid belt, Ceres, or the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. 

It took almost 200 years for America to grow to the point of getting independence.  It may take the same for Mars.  Continuous colonization, building, expanding to become self sufficient, then launching further outward exploration. 

Offline RonM

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #41 on: 12/29/2014 03:22 PM »
Mars has some atmospheric pressure, so pressure for plants might not be a problem.  The equator on Mars is about 32 degrees F, so cold tolerant plants could grow at the equator like in the tundra areas of earth.  Reindeer eat this stuff, and it could be harvested mechanically and fed to Reindeer for meat.  They might could even grow cold tollerent wheat or corn genetically developed.  All this could grow outside greenhouses as long as water was available.  Plants could be harvested by pressurized electric tractors. 

I also know of a company locally that has 20 acres under greenhouses.  They grow starter veggatable plants, and flowers for sale at places like Lowe's and Home Depot.  It is not impossible to build whole cities under greenhouses connected by covered trailways for carts to move on.  Using iron, aluminum, or other resources found on Mars, structures could be built for colonists on a continuous basis.  Farming expanded, resource exploration, structure manufacturing could all keep colonists busy for years.  Once something is found or could be made in the lower gravity of Mars that could be traded with Earth, then they could eventually become self sufficient.  Mars could become the launching point for further exporation in the asteroid belt, Ceres, or the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. 

It took almost 200 years for America to grow to the point of getting independence.  It may take the same for Mars.  Continuous colonization, building, expanding to become self sufficient, then launching further outward exploration.

Martian atmospheric pressure is about 1% or less than that of Earth. In some previous posts, it was suggested the pressure would need to be anywhere from 1 to 3 psi or about 7 to 20 times greater than the martian atmosphere for plants to grown in a CO2 atmosphere. Low pressure green houses with air compressors would be not be hard to build.

Offline spacenut

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #42 on: 12/29/2014 04:48 PM »
Even a 1 acre greenhouse on earth could provide enough food for a family of 4 which includes rabbits or chickens.  So it is not impossible to grow food. Tilipia can be grown in a greenhouse pool and provide a lot of protein per acre.  I even predict farming in the future on earth will be done in greenhouses.  Smaller animals and chicken as well as fish can be also.  One acre of wheat can provide on earth one family with enough bread for a year.  Two to three crops a year could be grown in a greenhouse.  Food will not be impossible on Mars, water is available.  Nitrogen may be the kicker and would might be in short supply.  Animals could provide the fertilizer over time.  Homes could be built with gravity fed water tanks above them for radiation protection.  The water could also double as heat storage at night.  Waste water to feed the plants.  Nothing is beyond existing technology.  New ideas, technologies, food substitutes, etc, developed on Mars could benefit earth. 

Offline spacenut

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #43 on: 12/29/2014 05:11 PM »
I am alergic to soy and cow's milk, so I have to use almond milk.  I know soy has a lot of protein, but maybe other sources of protein can be made.  Like I said nitrogen is going to be the problem with Martian plant growth.  So some small animals or fish will be needed to provide a source of nitrogen for plants to grow as well as human waste. 

Offline guckyfan

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #44 on: 12/30/2014 09:05 AM »
I am alergic to soy and cow's milk, so I have to use almond milk.  I know soy has a lot of protein, but maybe other sources of protein can be made.  Like I said nitrogen is going to be the problem with Martian plant growth.  So some small animals or fish will be needed to provide a source of nitrogen for plants to grow as well as human waste.

To grow fish you need protein food first, that gives them the nitrogen. Fortunately the martian atmosphere contains a lot of nitrogen. The gas will be a byproduct of fuel ISRU. Nitrates can be produced unsing the Haber Bosch synthesis.

Just yesterday I have seen a report on local TV about an new company that grows both fish and use the nutrient rich water from the fish to grow a large variety of vegetables, keeping the water in a closed circuit between fish tanks and plant greenhouse. A method that would be very suitable for a closed circuit ecology on Mars.

Proteins for feeding the fish could be produced with bacteria that feed on methane with added nitrates and trace elements. A method that is already approved for producing animal feed in the EU.


Online RanulfC

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #45 on: 12/30/2014 07:11 PM »
I am alergic to soy and cow's milk, so I have to use almond milk.  I know soy has a lot of protein, but maybe other sources of protein can be made.  Like I said nitrogen is going to be the problem with Martian plant growth.  So some small animals or fish will be needed to provide a source of nitrogen for plants to grow as well as human waste.

To grow fish you need protein food first, that gives them the nitrogen. Fortunately the martian atmosphere contains a lot of nitrogen. The gas will be a byproduct of fuel ISRU. Nitrates can be produced unsing the Haber Bosch synthesis.

Just yesterday I have seen a report on local TV about an new company that grows both fish and use the nutrient rich water from the fish to grow a large variety of vegetables, keeping the water in a closed circuit between fish tanks and plant greenhouse. A method that would be very suitable for a closed circuit ecology on Mars.

Proteins for feeding the fish could be produced with bacteria that feed on methane with added nitrates and trace elements. A method that is already approved for producing animal feed in the EU.

It's called "Aquaponics" from "hydroponics+aquaculture" as a combined system :) There are several groups out there working towards "closed" (beside natural inputs) systems using algae as feedstock for such systems. Some of the archives for the S&S-Aquaponics forums have information on various in-loop fish feeding systems if you've got the time to look them up. (All my stuff is hard-copys) There were some folks who were working on a plant-and-fish-waste product recycling concept for food/fertilizer for the system but I don't have much more than outlines on that.

Aquaponics has been done with systems that both mono-culture as well as multi-culture for both aquatic and plant types with good success.
Modular, multi-node systems seem to work the best with mid-level rather than "high-intensity" systems having the best maintenance and operations records. And yield quatlity for both products is pretty high over any type of "soil" or even a straight hyrdoponics system in most cases.

Randy
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Offline spacenut

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #46 on: 12/31/2014 10:02 PM »
Tilipia are plant eaters and eat algae when young.  They are very fast growers and from birth to eatable size is only about 4 months.  Problem is they can't survive when the temperature is below 40 degrees F.  Their waste can produce nitrogen, and their bone and other wastes can be used as fertilizer.  One would get tired of tilipia all the time so rabbits and chickens might be a necessary for other sources of protein.  I think grains would require the most space. 

Offline Patchouli

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #47 on: 01/02/2015 06:48 PM »
Catfish and trout also can be raised in the same sorta tanks.
Goats also can be useful and act as a garbage disposal for crop waste.

Of course once you get more people you can build bigger habitats and start raising plants and live stock that require more space.
Once you have tens of thousands of people you have the man power to build massive projects on the scale of large stadiums in fact construction may be the main vocation for many early Mars colonists
« Last Edit: 01/02/2015 06:49 PM by Patchouli »

Offline AegeanBlue

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #48 on: 01/11/2015 02:20 AM »
My first degree, a 5 year degree equivalent to MSc was in Agronomy and my final project/thesis was on a hydroponic tomato greenhouse. It is interesting to read comments on something I specialized before I went into remote sensing. First of all by definition hydroponics is a system where the nutrient come from the liquid phase rather than the soil, until we can get an entire soil ecosystem on Mars all agriculture will be hydroponics. If you want to see areas with significant greenhouse production just look up Ierapetra or Campo de Almeria on Google Earth you will see entire valleys covered in greenhouses. Hydroponics was originally adopted commercially in the Netherlands some 50 years ago when the soils inside greenhouses became too saturated in pests to allow the use them for agriculture, hence they decided to adopt the use of artificial substrates for plant growth as had the US Navy done in the Pacific in WWII in desert islands. The issue with artificial substrates though is that every 3 to 7 years they need to be disposed of, due to phytosanitary or micronutrient exhaustion reasons.

Plants require some 20 or so elements to survive, most as micronutrients but C,H,O (derived from air) and N,P,K (from roots) are macronutrients. Fe falls inbetween, too big for micro but too small for macro. A major limitation for all agriculture in Mars will be the provision of N in plant available form, either we need to bring the synergetic microbes that reduce Nitrogen to NO3 in the or build a factory that produces N fertilizer. P, K, Fe can be more easily extracted and turned water soluble from appropriate soils, the micronutrients can be added in the substrate.

Fixing low level lighting does not require genetically engineering plants, in the constantly overcast Netherlands there is commercial greenhouse production in Mars-level lighting conditions, all you need is artificial lighting. Artificial lighting and shading is also desirable for another reason: photoperiodism. Many plants species will move from the vegetative to the flowering stage only if there is an appropriate length of day and night. The big elephant in the room not mentioned so far is heat demand: the typical greenhouse has three times the heating demand of a house the same size, after all its covering material is optimized for transmisivity of solar radiation, not hear retention. While there are several cold hardy edible plants, especially in tundra/taiga ecosystems, it is best to keep temperature in the order of 20-30 degrees C because metabolism is faster. The specific temperature depends on the plant but be aware that C3 plants (and most edible plants are C3 plants) actually saturate productivity ca 20-25 degrees and for a radiation level while C4 plants metabolize and photosynthesize faster in higher temperatures and solar radiation.

Also all greenhouses on earth are quite airtight when doors and windows are closed to the point that if you do not open a window within a couple of hours after sunrise they will consume all CO2 and cease photosynthesis. We will need some way to pump in CO2 from the ambient air outside the greenhouse without dropping the temperature excessively. While I never read it I would like to point to the MIT study on the Mars One project, without removal of O2 created by the plants the colonists will die of oxygen poisoning in a couple of months.

Design of the agricultural system of any future colony is something that also depends on the caloric and nutritional needs of the colonists. You will definitely need some sort of animal or at least mushroom food source because vitamin B12 is not produced by plants. Hydroponics is one of the most efficient methods to produce nutrients per area, while horticultural crops produce far higher nutrients (be they proteins, carbohydrates or fat) than major crops (such as wheat or rice) per area. Robots cannot replace the farmer or the agronomist yet, especially in greenhouses, otherwise they would have already done so in Europe where there is a farm labor shortage. If my memory does not fail me the ratio for a high tech fertigated greenhouse is about 1 worker per 1000 m2 of greenhouse space. Robotics might work will with plants like lettuce that are short and mostly require harvest, but if we are talking about tomatoes or cucumbers which require tying up the stalks, pruning and other such activity we need people.

Setting the first farms on Mars looks quite boggling. Nutritionists need to calculate caloric requirements of the colonists and suggest a diet. Then in cooperation with agronomists they need to size the required growing space for the plants, which in turn will lead to labor requirements. Then agronomists need to size the nutrient requirements of the plants and in turn size appropriate facilities to provide the fertilizers. The first colonists to the US could get their nutrients from the soil ecosystem, Mars does not have one not does it even have nitrogen fixing bacteria to the best of our knowledge. Pollinators are another thing they will eventually need, but let's say that the first colonists use self pollinating plants. In any case modern intensive hydroponic production requires chemical fertilizers. Then after plant biomass starts getting produced it would be best to also some sort of animals eating what is not edible or palatable to people, which in turn gets into all sorts of issues of genetic diversity since animal productivity drops with inbreeding. Human and animal waste will get recycled to the plants, after all some 70% of nitrogen people and animals eat is excreted but that will also require some design.

A closed loop agricultural ecosystem is just daunting. The first Mars One colonists (if they make it to Mars) should be best all the food they need until the first resupply mission 26 months later while still setting the ecosystem. This however in turn creates another problem: is there shelf stable nutritionally complete food out there capable of lasting the 6 months transit and 26 months to resupply? If we resupply robotically outside the opposition opportunities, does food exist able to survive the radiation environment of the trip and arrive nutritionally complete or are the Mars colonists headed for space scurvy? I am not saying it is impossible, just daunting

Offline guckyfan

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #49 on: 01/11/2015 07:08 AM »
@AegeanBlue

Very good post, thanks and welcome to the forum.

Many things one could reply to. I chose only few.

It is not that hard to keep the greenhouses warm. The martian atmosphere is near vacuum and will not transport heat the way the earth atmosphere does. As it is a greenhouse that takes sunlight in and stops infrared from escaping it may be necessary to implement methods to dispose of excess heat.

The effect of radiation is often overestimated because there is so much talk about it. While higher than recommended exposure for humans it is actually very low. Nutrients are not at risk.

A question on lighting. Is light used in greenhouses to increase yield or is it mainly to extend daylight hours to get plants into growth phase early, when the day is still short? On Mars early settlements would be near the equator, where days are quite near to 12 hours day, 12 hours night. That should be enough for the needs of plants. Maybe reflective mirror sheets can augment light level if required.

Edit: fixed typo
« Last Edit: 01/11/2015 07:09 AM by guckyfan »

Offline AegeanBlue

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #50 on: 01/11/2015 07:12 PM »
@AegeanBlue
It is not that hard to keep the greenhouses warm. The martian atmosphere is near vacuum and will not transport heat the way the earth atmosphere does. As it is a greenhouse that takes sunlight in and stops infrared from escaping it may be necessary to implement methods to dispose of excess heat.

Excessive heat inside the greenhouse is a problem that happens in Mediterranean climates from @ around March to the end of the growing season, whenever that is. The greenhouse can get to 40+ C plus when the outside temperature is 20+ AND there is strong sunlight. I doubt we will find this kind of condition in Mars but you are right, vacuum is great insulator. Then again despite the popular misconception the main heating effect inside a greenhouse is not that glass does not allow IR to leak, it is that we do not allow air to circulate with the environment. Glass will stop IR from leaking but glasshouses are maybe 5% of all greenhouses worldwide, PET which is what 80% of greenhouses are covered by is transparent to IR to the point that an unheated greenhouse at night can be cooler than the ambient temperature outside. Also as temperature drops relative humidity rises inside the greenhouse to the point that moisture condenses in the inner cover surface, something both desirable in that water reduces IR leakage and undesirable in that high humidity increases susceptibility to fungal diseases. I would be surprised if there is a cooling need at a Martian greenhouse and I think it could be easy to solve by pumping concentrated cold Martian air.

Quote
The effect of radiation is often overestimated because there is so much talk about it. While higher than recommended exposure for humans it is actually very low. Nutrients are not at risk.

I am not worried about the health of plants, I am worried about nutrition. The reason we prefer to eat fresh rather than processed food is that processing destroys some of the complex organics that are necessary for human well being such as vitamins. Irradiation is an accepted process (granted, it is illegal in some countries) to preserve food but dosage is under strong limitation. What would the result of Mars travel cosmic irradiation on food? This would be a great topic for a thesis or dissertation.

Quote
A question on lighting. Is light used in greenhouses to increase yield or is it mainly to extend daylight hours to get plants into growth phase early, when the day is still short? On Mars early settlements would be near the equator, where days are quite near to 12 hours day, 12 hours night. That should be enough for the needs of plants. Maybe reflective mirror sheets can augment light level if required.


Both. Dreary northern Europe does not have sufficient lighting in the winter for the subtropical vegetables grown in the greenhouses, so they have lights. It is only though in northern Europe (perhaps Canada?) that artificial lighting is used to increase photosynthetic activity. Lighting and shading is used all over the world to grow off season crops that require specific day and night length to change phenological stage. If you have chrysanthemum in the winter, no matter what temperature you keep the greenhouse on it will not flower, it requires long days to flower. Seed companies have been creating day-length neutral varieties of major, but it is definitely better to design the greenhouse with artificial lighting anyway. Do we really want production to stop because a planet wide dust storm comes along and drops incoming radiation to pathetic levels, below what the plant needs to keep growing?

While some effects on the seeds can be overcome through vernalization, plants need their proper GDDs and day lengths to go through an entire cycle. It is best to select species for food productivity even if it means artificial lighting and day length control than to select for day length and low radiation, let's not forget what colonists can't grow locally they need to import from Earth.

If the first Mars trip is to stay there for a year rather than 30 days they need to grow their food rather than carry all of it which also means though that landing site must also be selected based on P and K rock richness, so as to provide local fertilizer. My thinking is that just considering how had it is to set up a farm without a biosphere, the first Expedition should be a 30 day type excursion with food for all 30 days but still have someone dedicated to setting up a farm and do grow something fast and edible these 30 days. By setting up a farm I mean setting up fertilizer production facilities, habitats, air pumps etc. When the second expedition lands they should start using the facility set up during mission 1 and plant a crop on day two to provide food, but still bring enough food for their entire duration. It would be after expedition 2 proves Mars farmable that they should forgo bringing all the food necessary. I am ambivalent if expedition 2 should be a 30 day or one year mission, but expedition one should definitely be a 30 day mission

BTW I am familiar with PLANTS, I used it for my dissertation

Offline gbaikie

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #51 on: 01/11/2015 08:49 PM »
Quote
A question on lighting. Is light used in greenhouses to increase yield or is it mainly to extend daylight hours to get plants into growth phase early, when the day is still short? On Mars early settlements would be near the equator, where days are quite near to 12 hours day, 12 hours night. That should be enough for the needs of plants. Maybe reflective mirror sheets can augment light level if required.

Quote
Both. Dreary northern Europe does not have sufficient lighting in the winter for the subtropical vegetables grown in the greenhouses, so they have lights. It is only though in northern Europe (perhaps Canada?) that artificial lighting is used to increase photosynthetic activity. Lighting and shading is used all over the world to grow off season crops that require specific day and night length to change phenological stage. If you have chrysanthemum in the winter, no matter what temperature you keep the greenhouse on it will not flower, it requires long days to flower. Seed companies have been creating day-length neutral varieties of major, but it is definitely better to design the greenhouse with artificial lighting anyway. Do we really want production to stop because a planet wide dust storm comes along and drops incoming radiation to pathetic levels, below what the plant needs to keep growing?

While some effects on the seeds can be overcome through vernalization, plants need their proper GDDs and day lengths to go through an entire cycle. It is best to select species for food productivity even if it means artificial lighting and day length control than to select for day length and low radiation, let's not forget what colonists can't grow locally they need to import from Earth.

If the first Mars trip is to stay there for a year rather than 30 days they need to grow their food rather than carry all of it which also means though that landing site must also be selected based on P and K rock richness, so as to provide local fertilizer. My thinking is that just considering how had it is to set up a farm without a biosphere, the first Expedition should be a 30 day type excursion with food for all 30 days but still have someone dedicated to setting up a farm and do grow something fast and edible these 30 days. By setting up a farm I mean setting up fertilizer production facilities, habitats, air pumps etc. When the second expedition lands they should start using the facility set up during mission 1 and plant a crop on day two to provide food, but still bring enough food for their entire duration. It would be after expedition 2 proves Mars farmable that they should forgo bringing all the food necessary. I am ambivalent if expedition 2 should be a 30 day or one year mission, but expedition one should definitely be a 30 day mission

BTW I am familiar with PLANTS, I used it for my dissertation

I would not suggest 30 day stay. But if want short duration on the surface Mars you pick the southern polar region and get more sunlight on Mars as compared to anywhere on Earth.
http://ccar.colorado.edu/asen5050/projects/projects_2001/benoit/solar_irradiance_on_mars.htm
"The South Pole has a higher seasonal maximum than the North Pole because southern summer occurs near perihelion.  Obviously, both solar powered systems and plants would not thrive all year long near the poles, however the seasonal variations near the equator are small and thus indicate the most likely latitudes for utilizing solar irradiance on the Martian surface.  "

The graph at above reference shows higher average yearly solar irradiance of over 250 watts. And get 250 watts at about  30 degree south, and for year average that is better than most places on earth.

Or Kansas gets about 5000 watt per day on average per year. And divide by 24 is 208 watts. Of course Kansas during summer has a higher per day solar irradiance.
But Mars summer at poles is 24 hours of sunlight and in terms of available 24 hours of sunlight on Earth [polar regions] one gets more sunlight per average hour on Mars.
Or Alaska is known for spectacularly growing season [though it's a very short period of time]. And Mars south pole would similar but a much longer period of time as Mars year [or a Mars summer] is quite a bit longer.
But if staying for years, it seems somewhere around 30 degree South latitude is best and could be that late spring and early fall at 30 degrees is better for growing plants than during summer- because you have longer daylight as compared to at equator [though it's shorter in winter]. On perfect sphere of planet and circle of orbit one gets equal amount of sunlight [1/2 day- regardless of poles or equator] but local terrain and orbital position have give more hours of sunlight per year and more solar irradiance. Or somewhat related to "southern exposure" in terms farming in Northern Hemisphere on Earth.

An in article above it refers to PAR [Photosynthetically active radiation]. And in terms of Earth, here another article:
https://www.agronomy.org/publications/aj/abstracts/76/6/AJ0760060939
"In the semiarid climate near Fresno, CA, the daily photosynthetic photon flux density (PPFD) in units of µmol m−2 was 2.04 ± 0.06 times the solar irradiance (SI). The daily irradiance within the PAR waveband (photosynthetic irradiance (PI), 0.4 to 0.7 µm) was estimated to be 45% of the daily solar irradiance. "

So Fresno has average of about 6000 watts per day [250 watt]. So in terms useful sunlight: 112.5 watts.
And in first article it shows that is varies quite a lot depending dust levels.

I would say roughly on Mars one has dust problem and Earth one has cloud problem. And Mars one could terraform so as to reduce dust levels, but on Earth one can't really do anything about the clouds.

And in terms Mars exploration it seems if want to grow stuff, one should improve one's ability to accurately predict dust storms, say a year or two into the future.
« Last Edit: 01/11/2015 08:58 PM by gbaikie »

Offline AegeanBlue

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #52 on: 01/12/2015 12:39 AM »
BTW fPAR (fraction of photosynthetically active radiation) is one of the products that MODIS produces, which you can download from NASA LP DAAC.

I believe in colonization of Mars but I do not believe in Terraforming for philosophical reasons: The methane results coming out of Curiosity and Mars Express can be read as strong indications that there is life on Mars. I prefer that we do not extinguish it by transplanting the whole Earth ecosystem and overwriting the Martian ecosystem, we do not have that right. That being said I am totally in favor of exploring the planet and creating cities under domes etc. The first missions to Mars should not be Apollo one-shot where nothing of real value is left back except ALSEP, some infrastructure ought to be left to help the next visitors. If we are to try to farm in the polar region we might have one advantageous growing season but it is very likely that the facility will be destroyed by the Martian winter.  I am more in favor of the relative temperature seasonal stability of the equatorial regions. MODIS data does show high net primary productivity in the near polar regions in the peak of the season, but if you integrate over the entire year polar region NPP is pretty low. True, tropical forest NPP is also relatively low because there is massive respiration in the rainforests that cancels the massive photosynthesis. However the Martian farm is going to be more like the controlled environment of a high tech North European greenhouse and less like a natural ecosystem. The energy spent in artificial lighting is not as significant as that spent heating a greenhouse, we would prefer to situate it in a place that has the warmest average night year round. Let us not forget that frozen water will burst pipes, we must either completely drain all water in the greenhouse, heat it year round even when people are not there or bring new piping for each mission to replace what was lost when we previously abandoned it.

We can get some idea on how to colonize Mars from the (first) Age of Exploration. Food related diseases were always a problem, until Captain Cook learned how to combat scurvy (limes and sauerkraut) your typical trip to the East Indies would return with only half the ships and 1/3 the crew, the difference being food. The Portuguese made their first empire by setting up a chain of depots and station, most colonies outside the Indian Ocean where little more than a fortified storage facility. Its purpose was not to conquer the indigenous (though they eventually did that) but to provide fresh food to ships doing the spice trade. Unfortunately there is no Sao Tome or Cape to revitalize on the way to Mars, expedition one is going to be Vasco Da Gama. However we want it to be Vasco da Gama, not John Cabot going there once and the Pilgrims showing up centuries later. We want a sustained process, a Pedro Cabral setting up a factory on the second trip. In our case, because of the distance and time involved, we need to set up the factory from mission one.

I have a rough vision of what the farm experiment will look like from expedition one on. As I mentioned earlier I am more in favor of a 30 day expedition 1 rather that a 200+ day expedition, we do not know how achievable is long term farming on Mars and it is quite risky to have earth grown food in storage for 3 years. No matter how many nutritional supplements we bring it is more likely than not that some food deficiency will pop up, not only due to the need for preservation but also because we do not know the physiological response to the round trip to Mars. Doctors had no idea that we shed so many skin cells every day until the first nuclear powered submarine put people for months inside a crammed box, leading to accumulation in the bunks. It took a large number of cosmonauts and astronauts until we discovered how to combat bone loss in Earth orbit due to weightlessness, we have no idea what change Mars gravity brings to human physiology nor what is needed to combat it. There is no experiment I am aware of that had a whole greenhouse under external simulated Mars conditions. Do we know if we can keep the greenhouse up for 200 days? Do we know how plants inside will grow? Do we know if Mars sand is a good substrate and what elements will bioaccumulate in the fruits? Do we know if grounded Mars rocks will make good fertilizer and which ones? I know stories from Cyprus where unannounced changes in the fertilizer in micronutrient form from chelic iron to sulfuric iron led to sediment forming and ruining the irrigation pipes and emitters because of the hard and saline water there. There are too many unknowns to have people "living of the land" for expedition one and no real idea how shelf stable is food for years in the deep space environment. Let's reduce the risk during that mission to pave the way for the next expeditions, starting at the design stage.

The current plans for Mars call for a robotic supply ship to land where the human ship will land later carrying supplies. Among these supplies ought to be a packed greenhouse, preferably large so as to allow future growth inside there. Best cover material would be in my opinion clear PVC which does not have the fragility of glass and is not degrade easily with UV radiation as does PET. Also we need a machine to produce ammonia fertilizer, most likely using the Haber process from Martian air. Finally we need rock crushers for the other fertilizers and the substrate. The current plan is for 4 people to land (correct me if I am wrong), one will be the pilot, the other the geologist, third is the doctor and fourth the agronomist. One day one we have the one small step moments. Day two the geologists picks the most boring rocks that can be sacrificed as the agronomist starts assembling the airtight greenhouse and its associated machinery, such as the airpump or the water pump. For expedition one we can get away with bringing the fertilizer from earth, not for the rest though. In any case we need to prove that local fertilizer production is possible. It is best if we can bring some standard hydroponic substrates such as rockwool and cocopeat to compare to martian substrate material. By day 7 I see the growing facility assembled, lines set up as well as the pumps, drainage, lysimeters, automations, artificial light and cameras to record to earth, nutrient mixes etc. We pump concentrated Martian air till it get to 1 bar, then we put in the water in the nutrient mixes. We have set up the Martian substrate based on sand, silt and clay we believe is necessary for the plant, controlling the diameter of the substrate with the rock crusher. For a day or two we run the water through the production lines without plants present to test their hydraulic activities. Then we plant, most likely arabidiopsis which is what the Mars One 2018 student experiment will do despite being not usually edible because it grows fast and is well characterized. The plants will have germinated on the spaceship carrying the humans just before landing or will be set up to germinate at landing +10 days. While there is concentrated Martian air at 1 bar the agronomist works using an oxygen mask, firefighter style. After a little while the plants will germinate and grow and consume the CO2, leading to high oxygen concentration which can be sent to the habitat, one way or another. We monitor the plants until it is time to go back to Earth, making sure we have enough data and nutrient mix, we might even bring a few plants back to analyze on Earth. We remotely monitor the experiment after the astronauts have left, until the plants dies. Furthermore we monitor the facilities to see what are the energy and long term survival needs of the facilities, we still want to keep the greenhouse above 0 C even if there are no plants.

When expedition 2 arrives and we know that plants can grow and the greenhouse can survive, we set up experimental production for human consumption. On Earth even closed loop hydroponic systems require water replenishment, due to moisture leakage outside the greenhouse and phytosanitary reasons. While the artificial ecosystem will be as closed as possible we do need a water source as backup to top up. Hopefully expedition 1 experiments have identified fertilizer sources for the plants. In expedition two we have enough food from earth for the whole mission, especially when we know better its transport stability, but we will still grow food in the greenhouse so that we don't have to do so on expedition 3. It is on expedition 3 that we can go to living of the land

Offline gbaikie

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #53 on: 01/12/2015 03:58 AM »
BTW fPAR (fraction of photosynthetically active radiation) is one of the products that MODIS produces, --which you can download from NASA LP DAAC.

I believe in colonization of Mars but I do not believe in Terraforming for philosophical reasons: The methane results coming out of Curiosity and Mars Express can be read as strong indications that there is life on Mars. I prefer that we do not extinguish it by transplanting the whole Earth ecosystem and overwriting the Martian ecosystem, we do not have that right.

If you drill thru a mile of solid granite on Earth, you will find life down there.
And it's likely all mars life [or most of it] if on Mars is hundreds to thousands of meters under the surface.
Eg:
"The surprising discovery of deep subsurface microbial communities in the mid-1980s launched a new and rapidly expanding subdiscipline within biology, known as geomicrobiology. In geomicrobiology, the fields of geology, geophysics, hydrology, geochemistry, biochemistry, and microbiology have merged to study how life on this planet interacts with the earth's geology, how life may have originated and how life evolved over billions of years. Dark life–those organisms that thrive underground in the absence of sunlight–comprises 50 percent of the earth's biomass, is responsible for many geological phenomena, degrades our wastes and produces some of our energy. Yet many questions remain regarding dark life–questions that can only be answered by going underground."
http://www.deepscience.org/contents/dark_life.shtml
So according above 1/2 of Earth's life in underground, and Mars it might more than 99.9% of it is underground.
And we can't really stop activity on Earth due life below our feet. Life which we know very little about.



« Last Edit: 01/12/2015 03:59 AM by gbaikie »

Offline Kenm

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #54 on: 01/12/2015 04:29 AM »
Here are a couple of papers on inflatable mars greenhouses.

http://data.spaceappschallenge.org/ICES.pdf
http://www.marshome.org/files2/Hublitz2.pdf

It looks like you need a cover or heat to stay warm through the night.
It would be nice to integrate the greenhouse into the water recycling loop with some
kind of temperature/humidity control which condenses the water transpired by the plants.
With hundreds of KwHr of energy moving through the greenhouse this would be a significant amount of water per day.




 

Offline AegeanBlue

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #55 on: 01/12/2015 06:07 PM »
I agree that capturing and condensing plant transpiration is a great way to produce clean drinking water. There are going to be Na and Cl concentration issues, not to mention bacterial load issues but I think that you are on the right path, topping up the nutrient solution for hydroponics with treated wastewater and capturing transpiration as drinking water is a great way to solve several problem. I have read of blankets being placed over high tech greenhouses on earth to reduce nightly heat loss, but this is uncommon, farmers generally try to reduce capital investments in their greenhouses due to lack of capital and required higher capital return from the crops. Obviously this is not going to be an issue on Mars.

I know that Mars soil analogues have been produced on earth. Whatever their limitation might be in terms of actually simulating Mars, it still would be a nice experiment if someone tried to see their utility as substrates here on Earth. If they are too saline see what is required to wash them of salts (and avoid reapplying them in irrigation), if the substrate is too acid how soon they can be neutralized using alkali fertilizer forms in fertigation and also see how this affects salinity, possibilities are endless. I am sure there is a big body of student, undergrads and grads, jumping to do the grunt work, is there a finding source out there giving grants? I am not in academia but I certainly remember funding was a great limiter. I think this would be a great experiment for the Mars analogue sites experiments

Offline mitresaw

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #56 on: 04/08/2015 07:23 PM »
Hi all.  I want to throw out an idea or two for you all to kick around.  First let me say that I am still wading through all the wonderful insight collected here at nsf forum so your literary culture is still new to me. Please indulge me.  But to get to the meat:(my simple opinions)

1.  The birth and development of the Mars agriculture frontier is the strongest factor in bleo space economy.

2.  The lunar industrial potential is dependent upon demand from the said Mars development. 

3.   We have to acknowledge that we will corrupt the prestine Martian enviornment.

As I look at it everything else is detail.


Offline AegeanBlue

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #57 on: 04/17/2015 08:25 PM »
There has been a bit of extra conversation in the "Cooking for Mars" thread but here are a few updates since I last posted:

1. First food grown on Mars will most likely be blue green algae like spirulina and chlorella, which are faster growing than higher plants, can tolerate higher CO2 concentration (even as high as 40%) and have lower nutrient demands

2. We will contaminate the pristine environment, but this does not mean that we shouldn't try to minimize that. In countries where GMOs are allowed, you need to set up refuges. In any case it will be hugely interesting biology wise to find out which microorganisms are proven to be symbiotic for the plants. If we start growing completely sterilized seeds from earth, it is likely that we will see failure because some unknown microorganism is necessary for survival. No earth environment is truly pristine either, some necessary organisms will end up even in hyper clean seeds and allow plant growth.

3. While the greenhouses will be a wonderful source of oxygen, it is dangerous to have the air directly lead into the living space. Growing food for the colonists produces far more oxygen than what they breath, leading to excessive rich O2 atmosphere. This is the worst technical issue with MarsOne. Composting plant remains will consume O2 back to CO2, but again its timeframe is very different from that of O2 production in the greenhouse. I imagine a semi open air loop in the habitat: Mars atmospheric CO2 to biomass + O2, O2 for further use and biomass for eating and other uses.

4. New World colonization is not a great model for the interplanetary economy. While New World grown crops and preserved meat have been moving for centuries across the oceans, each planet or moon will grow its own food, except for very short distances (think Phobos/Deimos and Mars surface). Earth might feed the Moon ISS resupply style, explorers to the giant planets might top off their food in Mars or from Mars launched food, but I don't see Mars feeding the Moon or Earth

Offline AegeanBlue

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #58 on: 04/18/2015 03:51 AM »
In a greenhouse with mature plants they can consume the entire 400 ppm of CO2 in the space of a couple of hours after sunrise. This is why we open windows very fast after sunrise. I am not suggesting venting O2, rather to store and use it

Offline Impaler

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Re: Scaling Agriculture on Mars
« Reply #59 on: 04/19/2015 06:04 AM »
Their will be no greenhouses on Mars if by this you mean 'transparent buildings that grow plants in sunlight'.  It is all going to be done inside structures buried in regolith with plants lit by LEDs.

Transparent buildings are too heavy, too fragile, their is not enough Martian sunlight and it requires too large of a structure because you can't stack plants.  Indoor artificial lighting solves all these problems and such techniques are already being used on Earth for growing salad crops in urban areas.

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