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back to article Life on Mars means subsisting on grim diet of turd-garden spinach

Farmers are often heard singing about their desire for a brand new combine harvester, but they might not even need one if they fancy going to Mars. NASA bods have said the valuable skills of growing veggies and nurturing plantlife are vital to any Mars colonisation. Indeed, according to a talk given at the Human 2 Mars …

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Flame

You might want to seek out a copy of Andy Weir's 'The Martian' which was until recently available on Kindle for about 70p (since been bought by a publisher). He went into grim detail about the process of preparing a poo garden to grow emergency potatoes.

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Alert

...the process of preparing a poo garden to grow emergency potatoes.

OMFG, I'd rather have the spinach......and I really hate spinach.

Hint: The bit of spinach you eat grows above the shit it's planted in, while the spuds grow in it.

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@ 0laf

Just read that - so far the best cheap Kindle book I've found. It's probably worth a fiver when it's republished later this year.

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Desire for a brand new combine harvester

Must admit, I hadn't considered the aspirational interpretation before, I always considered it a yearning love song.

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Re: Desire for a brand new combine harvester

Indeed. "I've got a brand new combine harvester" seems to imply that I've got one, not that I want one.

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Pint

Re: Desire for a brand new combine harvester

Indeed. My interpratation was that the protagonist already has a combine harvester and was boasting of it in an attempt to get into ladies' pants

<- imagine that's a cider. Ooooh-arrr!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Desire for a brand new combine harvester

So the whole song is "I've got one, now I want some"?

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Re: Desire for a brand new combine harvester

"Ere, darlin' -- I've got a massive Ferguson"

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Coat

Re: Desire for a brand new combine harvester

I'm not sure that the ladies are likely to be attracted by your posession of a gigantic Glaswegian retired football manager pickled in single malt.

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Re: "Ere, darlin'"

Ack, ack, ack, ack, ack!

(Watched a lot of Popeye cartoons in me youth)

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Re: Desire for a brand new combine harvester

I drove moi traactor through your haystack laast niight, ooh-arr ooh-arr!

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Trollface

Re: Desire for a brand new combine harvester

Growing up in rural Iowa in the early 1980s sadly I do remember the farm kids and wannabes (like %80 of the class) speaking about this year's model of farm implements like city/normal people speak of cars. I seem to remember there being more farm implement dealerships than car dealerships in the area as well. I would say good times but then I actually moved to a real city and was like wow its called flyover country for a reason.

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Perjorative

Don't understand the 'turd garden' reference. Ultimately /all/ gardens are turd gardens.

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Re: Perjorative @Robert E A Harvey

..........."Ultimately /all/ gardens are turd gardens."

Especially if you or neighbours have a cat.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Perjorative

Except for the first and second gardens.

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Happy

Re: Perjorative

Lady Gardens?

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Anonymous Coward

Is it ripe yet?

Sniff Sniff.................

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Mmmm?

Surely a Red Planet horticulturalist ought to be known as a Titchmartian?

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Re: Mmmm?

> Titchmartian

Outstanding!

Bravo, sir.

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Alien

Martian farmers

Outstanding in their field, err, crater.

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Holmes

Wow...

You'd think that nobody had thought of the idea of using poo (animal or human) as fertilizer on farms before...

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JDX
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Re: Wow...

It is processed rather than being dumped straight on, generally speaking. Raw human sewage is not used due to disease risk.

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@JAX - Re: Wow...

I'm aware that human waste is processed first, apparently there's even a book called "Humanure" that explains how to compost it to turn it into fertilizer.

It seems, howevevr, that a certain El Reg Hack isn't aware of this...

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Re: @JAX - Wow...

I suspect the Hack is well aware and chose to avoid mention of treatment for shock value.

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Re: Wow...

Human excrement is also of rather low value as a fertiliser due to the way humans have evolved to eat cooked food, thereby stripping most of the nutritional value out of anything passing through the gut. On a space ship, you might get a more productive fertiliser from the skin cells caught by the air filters....

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Meh

Disease

There are serious risks to using human excrement in garden fertilizer: Hepatitis being the foremost. In the U.S. you can't use human poo for food crop fertilizer for precisely this reason. Previous experiments with sterilized poo got rid of diseases but also destroyed the nutrients and bacteria which made it as effective as dumping sand on the garden.

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Re: Disease

"Previous experiments with sterilized poo got rid of diseases but also destroyed the nutrients and bacteria which made it as effective as dumping sand on the garden."

Raw sewage always has been a problem, subject to treatment it's fine. For starters you don't sterilise sewage sludges, you just treat them in a manner that kills off the pathogens, primarily by putting the settled sludges into an anerobic digestor. The nutrients are unaltered by this stage, and as an agricultural fertiliser you're not much interested in adding any bacteria, so loss of non pathogens isn't a problem. As soon as its mixed with soil, naturally present bacteria will get to work to continue the decomposition process.

Treated sewage sludge is widely and successfully used as a a fertiliser the world over, with the problems either mythical (eg the EU nitrates directive), or created by careless disposal of (particularly) heavy metals into the sewers. Heavy industry, metal plating, hospital radiology departments are known problems, but unlikely to be an issue on Mars for a few years yet.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Disease

"Hepatitis being the foremost"

The nice thing about sending small numbers of people to live in a closed ecosystem is that you can screen them for a number of inconvenient diseases and afflictions ahead of time, and indeed takes steps to alter their intestinal flora if that seems like a useful thing to be able to do.

Human waste was certainly used as fertilizer in the past, and whilst the past was often a much less pleasant place to live in than the present, the fact that we are here to talk about such things suggests that putting poop on your veg patch is not a recipe for rapid and horrible death.

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Re: Disease

All they need to do is crap it straight out of the back door and let the nasty UV, high energy solar wind particles and similar stuff zap all the turd-bugs to death. It'll likely dry up pretty quickly, too and then be easy to crumble up all over the martian dust and voila - martian mulch all ready for your plants .

Should be be just fine for growing turnips and such. How much water would you have to mix in with the pee to make it ok for watering the veg?

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Dark Ages diet

I seem to remember this is what peasants mostly ate in the middle ages - their food mostly consisted of veggies and crops fertilized with human waste and boiled to within an inch of its life to kill the various nasties (although they didn't know it at the time).

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Re: Dark Ages diet

Yes. Trampled, boiled shitty-veg.

Weak beer too.

WEAK BEER!

Do we really want those days again?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Dark Ages diet

"Weak beer" Yeah, but they drank it _all_ the time...

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Re: Dark Ages diet

""Weak beer" Yeah, but they drank it _all_ the time..."

They had to - it was safer than drinking water .

But there were different beers as well - they didn't all resemble an earlier version of Fosters.

(yes, there are many other beers but I can't think of any 'traditional' beers that match the 'quality' of Fosters -- I'm omitting anything like Tesco Value tinned water)

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"Earthbound farmers are known to be at "high risk" of suicide, which might indicate that they're the sort to fancy going to Mars and never coming back to Earth."

Last thing you want on a dangerous mission like that is to have someone suicidal along. They might take out everyone, even by accident, when they decide to shake off their mortal coil.

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Alien

12 Years - a lot can happen...

So we have a 12 year gap for the one-way settlers to get settled in and start food production etc before any backup and relief arrives.

That is a long time for being isolated and cut off - hopefully full psychiatric profiles will be taken otherwise it starts sound like a premise for one of those claustrophobic Sci-Fi film (e.g. Alien, Event Horizon, Doom, etc.)

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Happy

Re: 12 Years - a lot can happen...

The thing is psychological profiles are a summation of expected and socially acceptable reactions based on previous experiences observed in others. There are no profiles for what to expect when a group who has been exposed to modern civilization is suddenly cut off from that civilization. Decades long separations from all society has never been observed. You could send a 'lost' tribe or highly trained individuals and what's going to happen is a complete toss up. I figure the colony would have the best chance of survival if they sent fairly 'Earthy' types who know how to make things and manage effectively through force if necessary (so rednecks or rural Kiwis or even prisoners seems to fit well). Sending highly educated people will just end with a Jamestown, VA type event.

The Dragon Riders of Pern series, the later (awful) Ender series and some Star Trek TNG episodes have taken a look at the issue but even in those stories they had access to some reasonably advanced technology. I think they should look into a recipe book for preparing Humans for dinner: Seems more useful than sending scientists and engineers who will cease to be useful the minute they're presented with a situation outside their training (most everything they'll experience).

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Re: 12 Years - a lot can happen...

"The thing is psychological profiles are a summation of expected and socially acceptable reactions based on previous experiences observed in others. There are no profiles for what to expect when a group who has been exposed to modern civilization is suddenly cut off from that civilization."

There have been a few people who've tried it, though, marooning themselves on desert islands with nothing but a camcorder for company. However, most of the time, they restrict themselves to a year. There was an experiment that was stuck a bunch of folk in a mock-up space capsule for a few years to simulate Mars-length cabin fever. I can't remember how long for or whether they've finished yet....

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Happy

Re: 12 Years - a lot can happen...

The Mars habitat people knew that on the other side of a 1/2" plywood wall their friends and civilization were out there & if something went terribly wrong medics would be there to help and an ambulance could take them to the nearby hospital.

There is no valid way to test what a marooned group will do on Mars without sending them to Mars. Any attempt to simulate the experience on Earth will have to be heavily rigged to even get close & I'm pretty sure that no one is going to allow and experiment where someone will enevitably die to take place when help was actually available. Knowing that at least one person in the group is doomed and no help is coming will significantly change the group dynamics. Behaviorists are going to love studying them.

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Timescales

ESA is planning on sending a rover to mars in 2018. There's a fair chance the launch window will be met, but I seriously doubt if any life it finds on mars during it's one year of operation will be human farmers, given the difficulty of sending people there, even on a one way trip. And if humans do get there, how do we make sure they don't muck up the various missions trying to find native martian life?

Do we therefore we sterilize our new redneck neighbours before touchdown? To reach the same standards used for the robotic missions, almost every single human cell would have to be removed from the spacecraft and the remaining ones subjected to a very harsh sterilization cycle. (Which only begs the question:- How *did* they manage to get chicken soup through the approvals process for the viking lander?)

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Re: Timescales

"how do we make sure they don't muck up the various missions trying to find native martian life?"

Mars is big. Not as big as Earth, but still pretty big. Your concern is like worrying that a colony in Cairo might contaminate an experiment in Edinburgh.

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Facepalm

Re: Timescales

The experiment in Edinburgh, is it isolated? Look at "contamination" of Australia with various wildlife as an example. On Mars, larger animals will not survive, so we are stuck to mainly bacteria etc. Not sure their rate of dispersion, but kick up a sand storm and it could be unlimited (Mars gets GLOBAL sandstorms).

The biggest obstacle to contamination of Mars is sending something that can survive. But if we do, what pray tell, what is there to prevent it spreading at an unrestricted speed?

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Meh

Re: Timescales

But if we do, what pray tell, what is there to prevent it spreading at an unrestricted speed?

Significant extremes of temperature, exceedingly low atmospheric pressures, all but total absence of water, probable lack of any suitable nutrients, fairly punishing UV and cosmic ray flux, noticably less sunlight for photosynthesis?

The surface of mars is less friendly to life than places like the dry valleys of Antarctica, and there's precious little that lives there despite a billion years for opportunistic organisms to move in, given that they are effectively right next door to a huge and ancient biosphere.

So, if we flew a few thousand tonnes of antarctic rock to mars, landed it gently somewhere relatively sheltered and with a good supply of ice, the occupants might not actually die all at once. That's a far cry from expecting the occupants of a human digestive system to survive and flourish in such an environment.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Timescales

The martian rovers are sterilized for "planetary protection". I suppose that since a reality TV show wouldn't be run by a country, then technically, the stars/victims of the show wouldn't be bound by the 1967 UN Outer Space Treaty. If this mars mission ever does look like it really will happen, then I expect a lot of nations to kick up a stink about this, and I don't mean by wading through the astronauts spinach patch...

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Alien

Insects?

What about adding some insects into the mix? Surely it must be easy to breed those. They must be tastier.

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Re: Insects?

Silkworms are apparently great

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/discoblog/2009/01/15/yum-silkworms-could-be-the-next-astronaut-food/

You can eat the worms and the silk, but you do have to eat 170 of them a day...

I guess you could deep fry them or something,

Just need to figure out some equally grim source for the oil...

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Anonymous Coward

43% less sunshine

They will have trouble growing anything in the weak Martian sunshine and at night everything will freeze.

So I guess they will need nuclear powered turds.

Actually I think I might have had a couple of those :)

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Mushroom

"bit windy today"

A relentless diet of greens and life in a space-suit don't sound like a happy combination.

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Go

Re: "bit windy today"

I agree wholeheartedly with this, as well as with all the grim notes above - yet let´s look at it from the other side: Maybe a bit a artificial greenhouse effect is what Mars needs to be terraformed, and in such case a little methane gas from cabbage diet can be quite helpful...

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Night soil.

Wasn't so long ago this was done everywhere in Britain.

Processed sewage is still used on farms.

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