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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Tamás Szekeres
3 years ago

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…

3 years ago

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?

Christopher Kassel
3 years ago

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!

Arelli Tinajero
3 years ago

I’m willing to bet the upper middle class and ultra wealthy could leave Earth for Mars, but what about the poor or lower middle class? We’d be left with the depleted resources and continued mess of climate change and barren soils after the rich leave for their Martian utopia.

3 years ago

In other words we will still need Earth. Even if it is for the help of Earth it will still be affected in some type of way. We will waste money, resource and what if it doesn’t work? We have to think of another way to “save” Earth.

3 years ago

Farming on other planets are possible by the means of the soil, we should have backup plans for every year just in case we have to evacuate the planet.
I believe that we should fix our problems first before we decide to go to mars and use our resources , Space Ex is using money to find a new way for life to live on mars yet on earth people are struggling from starvation and thirst.

3 years ago

I don’t understand how people are so against GMO but yet feels like GMO is okay for the people on Mars. They know it would be wrong to take resources from Earth and take them to Mars. Is that why they want to GMO? It’s not like its natural. I honestly believe that Mars should not be colonized since humans have already destroyed Earth.

3 years ago

We should just protect this world so we don’t have to live on any planet but Earth.

3 years ago

The article said it would take around “100 years” for the food system to be self sufficient. People on mars would be fed by supply drop ships which would have to go frequently to drop the required resources off. Some solutions could be, don’t go to mars yet since it seems like they would be infesting a lot of resources. Farming on other planets is a possibility. I don’t think there should be a plan set up for the people who go to mars, so that they have the resources they need. No its perfectly fine to bring resources from… Read more »

Joshua Arnold
3 years ago

I think it could be a possibility to feed people on Mars, but it’d be wise to have a 5 year plan in advance. Possible solutions would be to bring any food or resources you could and then trying to see if farming is possible. I don’t think it’s a good idea to bring animals but if it has to be done then so be it. My thoughts are that I’m interested to see what Elon will do, and if he’ll put his cloning technology to use.