The problem with Mars is that it's surface is not very rich in minerals important to plants.

There is also a significant lack of water on Mars.

Does this mean that the only viable solution to plant growth on Mars will be to melt the ice, mix with minerals brought over from Earth and then directly distributed to the plants through hydroponics?

This itself has the issue of requiring the minerals to be brought in externally, and isn't very sustainable in the long run.

Is there a more sustainable method that could be investigated to allow initial plant growth for a sustainable colony on Mars?


1 Answer 1


From "The Case for Mars", using Viking data, it can be shown that the soil is similar, although we don't know about the nitrogen content. Iron in particular is higher, Potassium is lower. They also contain smectite clays. Bottom line is, there are probably parts of Mars that have enough minerals to grow plants, and those things that are lacking could probably be found in other places.

The proposal from "The Case for Mars" is to simply build greenhouses, with the frame of them buried deep under ground, and use a CO2 rich, but not excessively rich, environment to grow the plants. If any minerals needs to be added, they can be found somewhere on Mars, so they should be found there.

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    $\begingroup$ We shouldn't forget also that Mars has calderas and all those lava beds that might make fine soil if we colonize it. NASA funded a HI-SEAS project on Hawaii to simulate human Mars missions, tho I'm not sure they've managed to take any advantage of the lava field there yet, I think they're just experimenting with astronaut food recipies for now, bless them :) $\endgroup$
    – TildalWave
    Oct 30, 2013 at 13:53
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    $\begingroup$ The perchlorate content in the soil is problematic, though it may not be ubiquitous. The solution to this might be simply growing some useful non-food crops (like bamboo, hemp, or any number of other natural fibers) for several (crop) generations until the salts were concentrated in the harvested crops, and removed from the soil. This would also do some of the hard work of fixing nitrogen to the soil... $\endgroup$ Oct 26, 2016 at 21:26

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