What Would It Take to Feed One Million People on Mars? - Modern Farmer

What Would It Take to Feed One Million People on Mars?

A new study says it could take a century for a food system on the red planet to be self-sufficient.

The red planet.
Photography by Vadim Sadovski/Shutterstock

While Elon Musk’s engineers are figuring out how we’re all going to get to Mars, some of us want to know what we’re going to eat when we get there.

The red planet’s first residents will likely have to import most (if not all) of their food from Earth, and it’s probably safe to say they won’t be eating cheeseburgers.

In a new paper, planetary scientists from the University of Central Florida explored what would be on the menu for one million martian residents and tackled the logistics of feeding them all. Their study, published in New Space, found it would take 100 years for such a food system to be self-sufficient, and, in the meantime, people would need to transport a huge amount of food from Earth.

Musk’s SpaceX has plans to start launching missions to Mars as soon as 2024 with the hope that people will colonize the planet. Producing food on Mars would be necessary to support people permanently living there, but plants cannot be grown outdoors on the planet. Produce could potentially be grown in tunnels, but people would need to build 14,500 kilometers of tunnel segments to host enough produce to feed one million people, according to the report.

The paper found that raising farm animals on Mars won’t happen any time soon either because of the impracticality of transporting them through space. But possible alternatives could include insect farming and cellular agriculture, which involves producing protein-based food in a lab.

The scientists who penned the paper built a computer model to calculate the food needs of people living on Mars if the population grew to one million people. The model, which was based on calorie needs and land requirements, found that, if no food was produced locally, more than 194,000 transport ships would be needed to bring food from Earth during the first 100 years. If produce was grown locally, more than 50,000 ships would still be needed to bring in packaged food during that time, until the new civilization became self-sufficient.

Scientists at Washington State University recently announced in a separate study that they have found a way to extend the shelf life of macaroni and cheese by up to three years. Seeing as it takes around seven months to get to Mars, this might be a good option for those who don’t want to eat bugs.


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Christopher Kassel

How about finding ways to feed everyone right here on Earth first. Space Ex is a huge waste of money and resources in a world where millions don’t get adequate food or clean water. ..Just saying!

Tamás Szekeres

I think UV filtered, pressurized glasshouses would be much greater idea the tunnels… Mars dirt has the required minerals for plants… Dunno why ppl always so pessimists about space exploration…


Not only would earth food needed to be imported, but Earth’s heavy metals, wood, petroleum or corn (for plastics), etc., in order to build infrastructure there. How can we move to another planet to save our civilization if we need to continue to take Earth’s resources of minerals, metals, and stable elements to do it?

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