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The Martian Malt: Brewing on the Red Planet

Students at Villanova University have found that hops could grow well on the Red Planet, bringing the prospect of drinking a frosty one while watching the Martian sunset a step closer to reality

At some point in the relatively near future, humans will land on Mars. Sometime after that the first Martian colony will be established, making humans a multi-planetary species for the first time. But how much longer will it be before the first beer is being enjoyed by Martian settlers?

On the surface it’s a crazy concept, but one that may prove to be more practical than it initially seems, thanks to research by students at Villanova University.

Tasked with determining which plants could grow in simulated Martian soil at the university’s Mars Garden, they found that while some Earth staples such as spinach and peas struggled, others, including onions, basil, sweet potatoes and kale, thrived. However, among the successors was hops, which – paired with a Martian brewery – could provide settlers with a valuable means of relaxing.

“I don’t know if it’s a practical plant, but it’s doing fairly well,” Edward F Guinan, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Villanova University, told The New York Times.

While unlikely to be the first choice of plant, the presence of beer on Mars could prove to be a key step for an established colony, marking a moment where colonists could go from merely surviving to being able to actually relax and enjoy themselves.

As significant as it would be, however, there is an issue: true Martian soil contains perchlorates, a chemical that can cause thyroid problems, which would need to be eliminated before any food – essential or luxurious – could be grown successfully. The solution will likely be to wash the water-soluble chemical away or use bacteria to eat it, cleaning the soil, but until this is resolved a pint on Mars remains a distant dream.

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