Can Humans Survive on Mars? – Growing Food

Welcome to an unorthodox article for World Seeds Catalog. I am going to discuss if humans can survive on Mars; something that I have been following for a few years now. But don’t worry, there will be plenty of discussion for the gardening folks out there! I just want to give a full perspective on what it would require us to get a healthy colony up and running with regard to specific aspects such food production.

Let me know down in the comments if you like this trend? 😉

Can Humans Survive on Mars - Growing Plants on Mars. Image by Lucas Myers

Why do We Want to Colonize Mars? – Pro’s & Con’s

Mars is a symbol of human progression and every day more and more people discover it. This has been mainly fueled by decades of space missions and a recent newcomer with great ambitions, namely Elon Musk.

These days he is seen as the forerunner for Mars colonization, getting people excited about many possibilities by doing extraordinary things like launching a car into space.

Elon Musk had this to say why we should colonize Mars.

To Avoid WW3

The distance between Earth and Mars would allow Mars colonies to survive if a global war breaks out on Earth and eventually decimate humanity. But to achieve this, vast amount of resources would be required in order to build a self sustainable colony.

Furthermore, Musk mentions artificial intelligence as a catalyst that will spark WW3, mainly due to its development not being regulated.

Musk argues that the post-war period would then be shortened if Mars citizens were to return to Earth and shorten the period of the dark ages.

But what are the thoughts of the rest of the world?

A quick read on Quora shows that people are arguing against the colonization of Mars, with stating valid reasons. Why not just colonize above Earth’s atmosphere in space stations? Well, I go back to my statement that Mars is a symbol of human progression. You have to know little about Mars to get fixated on it. Will a space station even above Mars’ atmosphere have that same effect?

At the end of the day, the cold hard answer is that Mars will supply resources that is not commonly found on Earth such as Magnesium, Aluminum, Titanium, Iron, and Chromium. The same goes for developing a moon base; a scenario much more likely to happen than settling on Mars.

Detrimental Living Conditions on MarsCan Humans Survive on Mars - Growing Plants on Mars. Photo by WikImages

The red planet may look calm in the image on the right but it offers a cacophony of reasons to be weary of.

The atmosphere of the planet is thin and unbreathable (made up mostly of carbon dioxide) which permits greater amounts of radiation to reach the surface.

The soil itself is fine, electrostatically charged and poisonous, which can damage equipment as well as create health issues for local inhabitants.

The most important resources required for a pioneering settlement are absent and should transported from Earth. This brings in another dilemma; rocket fuel is very expensive and cumbersome.

To make a journey between Earth and Mars, an alternate and lighter resource should be incorporated into the fuel system. Recently ion propulsion have come a long way and Helium-3 is also another option.

How will We Grow Food on Mars?

This is a daring feat if it is successful! You simply cannot plant a seed in Martian soil and wish for the best. Like I mentioned, the soil is poisonous. So first, it needs to be decontaminated before any vegetation can be planted and harvested.

After this, the soil won’t harm your plants or transfer poisonous elements to the crop, which allows you to move into the next phase of food production, sowing.

This brings up another problem; the nutrients required to grow a healthy plant is absent. Nitrogen forms part of the 3 macro nutrients necessary to sustain plant life. Calcium also appears to be low, but the scientists have barely scratched the Martian surface. If this is missing, you won’t get very far in producing food for colonists, would you?

Above that, the soil is also alkaline, meaning there is a pH imbalance that needs to be rectified. As mentioned in a previous post, fertilizer and other nutrients need to be at the correct pH level in order to be taken up. You can read more about it here.

But you can add fertilizer like feces, right? Yes, but you should beware of transferring viruses and diseases as well.

An alternative to this is to create artificial environments to grow crops from. An example of this is aquaponics or aeroponics, which allows nutrients to be recycled between the plant and tanks that contain fish. That is if the fish survive the trip to Mars.

Kurzgesagt made a very informative video on how humans will survive on Mars. You can have a look at it below.

But Let’s say that you are able to cultivate a crop using Martian soil; how do you get past its poisonous characteristic? You simply dig deeper. Recently, it was discovered (but not confirmed) that deeper layers of Martian soil might not be as poisonous as its surface. Combine that with the fact there might usable nitrogen as well, and you get a higher success rate for colonization!

Frequently Asked Questions – What Others are Asking

I’d like to answer a few questions that you may not have considered or that I think relates to this topic. Here are my top picks!

Could any plants survive on Mars?

It is very possible for plants to survive on Mars; but not easy. NASA funded researchers have been busy since 2005 in finding ways to improve plant survival rates by doing research similar to gene splicing.

Take for example plants that have been modified to survive cold climates as well as have exceptional resistance to UV radiation. The result is a pioneering species that is tough, edible healthy and boosts morale. Read more about it here.

But they will still need to be kept in greenhouses with precision climate control until there is a breathable atmosphere on Mars.

Could you grow potatoes on Mars?

In short, definitely! This is according to the Utah State University.

But you cannot survive on potatoes alone. You’ll need additional supplements like protein and vitamins which is part of an astronauts diet.

Another factor to consider is micro gravity. Plants a sense of direction, something to give it an idea of what is up and what is down. Fortunately the gravity on Mars is strong enough to direct plant growth as well as let water filter into the soil. To read more about this click here.

Is it safe to use human waste as fertilizer?

Yes… but you need to process it. See, human feces contains pathogens that when combined with plants can return to whomever is eating it.

This not a new practice though. We have done it for thousands of years right after our night soil, aka feces have been taken out. Today though we use processes similar to composting to remove the pathogens. The outcome is biosolids; if it is regulated it’ll be safe.

Many people are concerned with the pharmaceuticals we use as well as the heavy metals. Will it return through the plants and cause illnesses to us? Animals today, especially those we eat receive a lot more pharmaceuticals than we use. Yet it is safe to use, and we do not have a lot of concern when we use it.

To be sure, do not use unprocessed human feces for below the earth crops or tubers. These are hard to remove any pathogens from its soil covered surface.


Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed this post.

I’d like to know what you think of it, so why don’t you leave me some feedback here or a comment below! Should I write more posts like these?

I am a keen follower of the mars colonization projects currently underway. Elon Musk does really dream big and I’d like to see more ideas like those out in the world. I don’r believe that something cannot be achieved; if you look in the post about what people think about using human feces as fertilizer for example. There is always a way to go about progress and close mindedness does not help.

12 Comments on “Can Humans Survive on Mars? – Growing Food

  1. Does this article (as unorthodox as it is) consider the ratio of people that will have the privilege of escaping to Mars compare to the ones left behind in case of a WW3?. Am of the opinion that there is no need to waste human resources on the possibilities of Mars colonization. The martian soil will not accommodate plants and animals. Although plants  may survive what about the animal source of protein?.

    • That’s a great question Olalekan.

      I think it relates more to political and social aspects of human behaviour. Which people that go will ultimately be decided by the most influential colonizers.

      As for the animals, I believe it is possible or at least by the time large scale colonization takes place, to be able to grow proteins instead of having to waste energy and resources on raising the animals first that don’t even use the full potential of the food they digest.

  2. Hello
    Very interesting article. The question I’d like to ask is, do you think at we will have grown anything on the red planet in your life time? Personally I can’t see it happening soon but also admire the technology and science which could make it possible
    Thank you

    • I think it is possible, Paul. It won’t necessarily be a long mission or a big one. I think we are capable of realizing at least the initial food production phase on Mars.

      The full habitation will take probably longer than our current lifetime.

  3. I think Mars colonization is not a very feasible project. There are so many difficulties that makes such a project impossible from a logistics point of view. Yes we could colonize Mars but the amount of resources would be so high that noone would be willing to commit. Finding a planet with similar atmosphere I believe would be the most practical and doable project but this brings other problems. There is no planet with atmosphere similar to Earth’s anywhere close to us so reaching such a planet would take so many years that is impossible with today’s technologies. We would need to discover some kind of stasis tech that would be able to sustain life for many years without the need of resources in order to have any chance to reach such a far distant planet. In the end colonization is a hard project no matter how you see it.

    • That is also true Stratos.

      The major shift that needs to take place in order to advance human colonization is not a physical one. Right now we require a paradigm shift. It does not necessarily lead to the colonization of Mars but to other possibilities. Something along the lines of ” Aim for Mars and you’ll land on the Moon.”

      None of the Mars projects would be possible if we don’t have  moon base first, right?

  4. This is a topic I have always wondered about since I was a kid. Growing up, I learned that the planet Mars is somewhat similar to earth in a number of ways. In fact, many fictional books and movies seem to indicate that life once existed or Mars or still exists. For the reasons you stated, I think any attempt for humans to grow food on Mars will either meet with failure or will be too expensive to make it feasible. Instead of concentrating on escaping to Mars in the event of a World War 3, world leaders and scientist should concentrate on improving our environment, combat global climate change and create systems that guarantee some equality in society. We already have a tough battle with genetically modified organisms to be used as foods, why create another mammoth project that will face ethical and safety issues in the future?

    • The scale of the Mars project is incomparable to anything that has been done in the past. Our greatest fear and concern for failure can lead to either great results or massive losses on Earth. 

      But this is sign that we are still a long way away from realizing the goal Mars colonization. As I stated in Stratos’ comment, there is a major paradigm shift that needs t take place, in order to open up to the possibilities that can be reached if we are open minded.

  5. Thanks for writing this article can human survive on Mars ?

    I must commend you for tking your time to do your findings on it and put down the article. I really find every piece of the article educative on Mars.All this question whether human can life on Mars or not is all depends on the works and research of the scientists.but I must say it not going to be an easy and a few years work, it will take many year before all the researches and solution for human to live on Mars to be realistic because it seems everything about the Mars is opposite to the earth 

    • Thank you Ajibola40!

      The real challenge lies with these scientists, as you say. I am keen on seeing what discoveries they’ll make and in which directions it pushes humanity as a unity.

  6. This is really fascinating to know if human can survive on Mars and as well growing food. Your time and effort to put this article together is appreciated. It is amazing to read about the project colonization of Mars. It is known that the land of Mars is poisonous and even though there are processes in place to extract the poison that will make it suitable for plantation, how long would that take to achieve this? Another question I want to ask is are people currently living in Mars? If yes for how long? Another question for you is that is earth not conducive enough for human and what brought the thought of exploring Mars which the rate of survival is low? I will love you to keep writing on this for more enlightenment. Kudos to you. 

    • Thank you Fortune!

      There are currently no people living on Mars. The technology for this is either in development or haven’t been created yet. I think foremost that all parties are first focusing on colonizing the moon that will lead to the colonization of Mars.

      The thought of staying on Mars is probably the strongest among the influencers that want to colonize it today. It is still a new idea and the coverage of the topic have only recently become popular. With this in mind, I think it will still be a way off before any of these ideas are realized. It is the push from the influencers that drives it and more people need to buy into it before major developments can take place.

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