Preparation for something as complex and costly as a manned mission to Mars take decades to complete. Part of that preparation is being sure that the astronauts you send can survive once they arrive. It would be impossible to send enough food to last a colony years on the surface of Mars so the team will need to be able to grow their own food. Enter the University of Central Florida or UCF.
UCF has cooked up an experimental Martian soil that it is selling for $20 per kilogram. The intention for this fake Mars soil is to allow scientists and researchers to test their theories on things like farming before astronauts reach the planet. The fake soil is called a simulant and UCF can make simulated asteroid or moon soil as well.
The fake Marian soil is based on a formula that was derived from chemical signatures from real Martian soil collected by the Curiosity rover. The challenge for scientists using simulants for their experiments is that the simulants aren’t standardized. UCF Physics Professor Dan Britt says that lack of standardization means the results of experiments can’t be compared in an apples-to-apples way.
By using UCF’s simulants, experiments can be compared. Britt can mix soils in different ways to mimic soil from other planets or asteroids. Researchers performing experiments needing soils can order them ready to go from UCF or make their own using the formula that Britt and UCF have published.
Another participant in the project is Kevin Cannon, he says that most of the ingredients are readily available to make simulant soils based on other planets right here on Earth. He admits that some minerals needed are very difficult to obtain. All of UCF’s simulants meet NASA safety standards. UCF has 30 orders pending including one from Kennedy Space Center for half a ton of simulant.