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Villanova Students Experiment With Growing Food On Mars

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Some Villanova students spent the last semester growing crops in Martian soil to see what future space travelers might eat on the red planet.

It was called the "Red Thumbs Mars Garden Project." Ed Guinan, a Villanova professor of Astrophysics and Planetary Science, says the idea was to experiment with a variety of vegetables and herbs in regolith, a simulated Martian soil.

"They picked different kind of plants," Guinan said. "Mars you get 45% of the light you get here, and nothing would grow on the surface because it's too cold, but you would have greenhouses there."

And what crops were a success?

"Sweet potatoes did well," Guinan said, "these mixed greens, microgreens, lettuces and things like that did really well in the Martian soil."

But he says peas and regular potatoes did not do so well, until the soil was cut with vermiculite and ground up cardboard.

Guinan will be presenting the information at the American Astronomical Society's Winter Meeting on January 11. He'll also be teaching the class again, and plans to move the crops from a greenhouse which was too hot to a cold frame.

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