Villanova plants roots in Mars Garden Project

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Two Villanova astrophysics professors suggest future generations wanting to avoid pandemics like the one we’re experiencing right now might look to an out of this world place to escape.

That place is Mars where NASA is under a presidential directive to land humans by 2033.

And, the space agency is looking at the prospect of human colonies that would have to plant a garden to survive.

To that end, Villanova professor Scott Engle and colleague Dr. Ed Guinan, are supervising the Mars Garden Project.

Engle said the researchers use simulated Martian soil consisting of a mixture of Mojave Desert sand and materials the Mars Rover project found in soil and relayed back to NASA.

“So, if you can actually grow your food there, that really cuts down on the cost of the mission and it just makes everything much more efficient,” Engle said.

Villanova senior Alicia Eglin of North Wales is supervising the project and she learned quickly about the soil’s properties.

“It’s really sandy and when it gets wet, it kind of turns into a clay and it gets really thick,” Eglin said. “So it’s difficult for any plants with deeper roots to penetrate through the soil. So, we find that more shallow, rooted plants like microgreens do really well.”

Tomatoes?

No.

Dandelions?

They’d flourish, along with lettuce, peas and kale.

Engle said he was pleasantly surprised by the results so far.

“That’s the thing with microgreens, you just let them keep on coming up, an inch or two or so, and keep on cutting them off,” Engle said

Eglin said she is looking forward to getting back to the Villanova greenhouse to continue the research this summer.

“It’s not really being done a lot of places,” Eglin said. “It’s pretty new, which is really lucky for me because I’m on the forefront of something really large and really exciting.”

Both Engle and Guinan said the garden project so far shows growing food on Mars would be complicated, but not impossible.