January 16, 2018

WHAT WAS WATNEY'S RUSH?:

If We Ever Get to Mars, the Beer Might Not Be Bad (KENNETH CHANG JAN. 12, 2018, NY Times)

Here's an interplanetary botany discovery that took college students and not NASA scientists to find: Hops -- the flowers used to add a pleasant bitterness to beer -- grow well in Martian soil.

"I don't know if it's a practical plant, but it's doing fairly well," said Edward F. Guinan, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Villanova University. [...]

Martian soil is very dense and dries out quickly -- perhaps better for making bricks than growing plants, which have trouble pushing their roots through. That includes potatoes, the savior food for the fictional Mark Watney in "The Martian," the book by Andy Weir and later a movie starring Matt Damon about a NASA astronaut stranded on Mars.

For the most part, the students chose practical, nutritious plants like soy beans and kale in addition to potatoes. Some added herbs like basil and mint so that astronauts could enjoy more flavorful food on thesolar system's fourth world.

And one group chose hops.

"Because they're students," Dr. Guinan said. "Martian beer." (He vetoed marijuana.) [...]

One group of students hypothesized that coffee grinds could similarly be used as a filler to loosen up the soil. They figured the astronauts would be drinking coffee anyway, and coffee would also be a natural fertilizer. "Also, it may help acidify Martian soil," said Elizabeth Johnson, a Villanova senior who took the class. Mars soil is alkaline, with a pH of 8 to 9, she said, compared to 6 to 7 on Earth.

"We think the coffee has a lot of potential," Ms. Johnson said.

Her team's carrots, spinach and scallions sprouted quickly in the mix of coffee grounds and Martian soil, initially growing faster than even plants in a control planter full of Earth potting mix.

Posted by at January 16, 2018 1:41 PM

  

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