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Are The Parameters Of Mars Suitable For Sustainable Plant Growth And Survival?

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Within the 2015 film, The Martian, the main protagonist is able to grow food sources on Mars when he is left after complications in a NASA mission. The capability of sustainable plant growth, to the quality seen on Earth, is questionable. This is where the question, ‘Are the parameters of Mars suitable for sustainable plant growth and survival?’ was asked.

To come to a conclusive answer for this question, it would need to be testable. The testability of this question can be decided when it is possible to be proven or disproven, if a relationship can be demonstrated within two things, that is the plant growth and the environmental factors, and it’s independent variable and dependent variable are all taken into consideration. The confirmation of this information and whether or not the answer can be considered fact is based on the collection of data, and the repetition of an experiment to minimise outliers and get a more accurate answer. Each variable and process involved within the testing of this question need to be capable of being reproduced, strictly following the steps taken.

This question is capable of being reproduced, this is due to the necessary variables for plant growth on Earth can be tested and comparing these factors to the only information on Mars’ variables so it is comparative to the same set of data.

What is actually needed for a plant to thrive? A multitude of factors go into developing healthy plant growth. To begin with, water, fresh clean air and healthy soil that is nutrient dense is essential for growing healthy plants to the best of their potential. Air that lacks oxygen, and the dust levels that Mars’ has is harmful to plants as it limits their ability to absorb carbon dioxide. This is impactful as it inhibits the process of photosynthesis, where plants make their own food to grow. Healthy soil is also extremely vital to plants as the essential nutrients found in soil help to anchor plant roots and support the plants through their growth. Temperature and sunlight also impact the plant, as exposure to sunlight aids in the process of photosynthesis, and temperatures are important as too low can freeze the plant and too high may burn it. All of the aforementioned contribute to ideal plant growth in a particular way.

There are significant quantities of water on the ‘Red Planet’ although it is dry by terrestrial standards, all this water is ice just below Mars’ surface. Many people believe that due to there being a high content of water on Mars, especially in it’s Martian soil that planting a seed will turn into a plant, but there is more needed than water for plants to grow.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, on Earth it takes 500 years to develop only one inch, or approximately two and a half centimetres of topsoil. This topsoil is filled with living and dead organisms – including plant matter, bacteria, rocks and nutrients such as nitrogen, all of these components aiding in ideal plant growth. As far as released research shows, Mars does not host these organisms to develop nutrient dense topsoil the same way that Earth does. In saying this, Martian soil has been found to contain specific nutrients that are beneficial for plants.

According to Mars’ atmosphere is 100 times thinner than that on Earth, without that atmospheric thermal blanket retention of warmth is impossible. On average, Mars’ temperature is minus 60 degrees celsius, optimal temperatures for plant growth are around 25 degrees celsius, meaning that seeds will freeze before seedlings or plants even get the chance to grow. Even taking into account Mars’ temperature on a hot Summer’s day (closer to the equator) temperatures only rise to about 20 degrees celsius, while at night they can plummet to minus 100 degrees.

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Sunlight, is also a factor that must be taken into account for plant growth, due to the process of photosynthesis. At the Earth’s surface, with the Sun directly overhead at local noon (clear dry atmosphere), the solar irradiance is about 1000 W/m2 (1000

watts per square metre). This value is highly variable depending upon such things as the amount of dust and water vapor in the atmosphere. At local noon on Mars, with Sun directly overhead, the solar irradiance is 590W/m2 (590 watts per square metre). This wattage means that noon in Mars the sunlight is the same level it would be at 2.2 degrees celsius on Earth. This means that sunlight levels on Mars are not sustainable for a natural photosynthesis process to occur within any plants that could hypothetically survive all of Mars’ other harsh conditions.

According to the main qualitative data we have surrounding both plant growth and Mars’, all of which previously aforementioned we can see that when they are compared plant growth on Mars is quite simply unsustainable.

Granting all this, Martian soil is nutrient dense and various plants have been grown using the soil. Martian soil contains macronutrients such as oxygen, nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. It also contains micronutrients such as iron, manganese and boron. Although there may not be the right amount of nutrients depending on where astronauts land on Mars, so fertilisers may need to be added to the soil. If we were to grow plants on large sections of Mars, the amount of fertiliser required would be excessive and the cost of transferring it from Earth would be too. Real Martian soil is also perchlorate. Perchlorates abound in the uppermost layer of Martian regolith, potentially lowering the freezing temperature of water – enough to explain some fleeting signs of liquid water activity on Mars.

Perchlorate is toxic to humans, causing thyroid problems and even death. If we were to move to Mars, breathing it in from the dust that could infiltrate any develop habitats and growing food from this soil would be extremely dangerous. This is where the main protagonist of the 2015 film ‘The Martian’ would have died.

If we genuinely wanted to grow plants in Martian soil, whether that is on Earth or on Mars the removal of perchlorates would be essential to allow the edibility of the plants grown to be maintained. In small portions, this can simply be done by thoroughly rinsing the soil in water, as these perchlorates are water soluble. Although, if we were to realistically look at growing plants on Mars, such a large amount of soil would require something on a larger scale and definitely more intriguing – the introduction of perchlorate-eating bacteria of which produces oxygen as a metabolic byproduct. Yet, even the bacteria would have its own queries, such as if it was able to survive the harsh conditions of Mars, how much of this bacteria we would have to introduce and whether it is capable of removing this perchlorate from each layer of Martian soil. We could also question if the oxygen released by the bacteria would sustain within the Martian atmosphere to develop air that would be similar to that on Earth, especially due to Mars having 95% carbon dioxide in its atmosphere.

Although there is an abundance of water on Mars, it is in the form of ice. When developing the theoretical hydroponic greenhouse to maintain heat and grow crops after altering Martian soil, the ice could be melted and used to water these plants. Except, since the Martian soil is so dry, the watering of plants would be increased severely to maintain enough water to suffice for the plants to avoid drying out. For sustained growth, solutes must continuously be imported into growing cells so that the osmotic potential does not increase in the face of osmotic dilution by inflowing water. Solute import thus assures maintenance of the water potential gradient that will sustain inward water movement. Since Mars has a very thin and cold atmosphere, plants grown on the planet would need to be in a greenhouse. This isn’t inherently a bad thing — Guinan said in an interview with the American Geophysical Union that the greenhouse plants could be part of the atmospheric recycling process for the idea of a Martian colony.

In essence, when we compare qualitative and quantitative data supplied by articles and credible scientific sources – as well as logically looking at the current state of Mars we can come to the conclusion that healthy, natural plant growth on Mars is simply not possible. We also must take into account the credibility of our sources, as for a lot of us primary research of Mars is not possible. A portion of data that has been produced throughout this literary reflection comes from NASA. NASA is a credible source of information, NASA knows that if it is found to release information that is false whether they partner with a corporation or otherwise the media attention will strip their credibility and remove funding after their reputation would be tarnished as such. NASA is purely scientific and wants to aid the scientific world such as the ISS, moon landings, and other missions, as its purpose is to gather data for scientists and encourage the public to be active and conscious about science. Scientists are currently working on ways to alter Mars to make it more suitable, as well as altering the plant matter itself to suit Mars and of course one day there is always the possibility of making this happen although it would be years, possibly decades away and at what cost?


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Are The Parameters Of Mars Suitable For Sustainable Plant Growth And Survival? (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 28, 2023, from
“Are The Parameters Of Mars Suitable For Sustainable Plant Growth And Survival?” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022,
Are The Parameters Of Mars Suitable For Sustainable Plant Growth And Survival? [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 28 Mar. 2023].
Are The Parameters Of Mars Suitable For Sustainable Plant Growth And Survival? [Internet] Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 17 [cited 2023 Mar 28]. Available from:
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