Mars For Sale: These Astrophysicists Are Selling Martian Dirt To NASA – But When Can We Expect To Buy Our Own?
You can walk into a store or museum right now and buy a meteorite for a couple bucks, but the odds of getting your hands on a pack of Martian dirt in the near future are slim to none – even if you're a top scientist working for NASA.
According to Mashable, a group of astrophysicists at the University of Central Florida have developed the next-best thing for hardcore space nerds like us, and you can buy a kilo of it right now for a crisp Andrew Jackson.
Known as "simulants," the artificial Martian dirt was created using formulas based on soil data collected by the Curiosity Rover. According to the UCF website, the Kennedy Space Center has already placed an order for 1000 pounds of the soil, presumably for science purposes. "The simulant is useful for research as we look to go to Mars," said UCF researcher and geologist Dan Britt. "If we are going to go, we'll need food, water and other essentials. As we are developing solutions, we need a way to test how these ideas will fare."
Making the dirt is basically like making a cake (if that cake was made of rocks and other materials found on Earth). But changing the recipe slightly, the scientists can make variations in the soil that mimic the soil variations on Mars or other objects in space – including the moon or asteroids. "Most of the minerals we need are found on Earth although some are very difficult to obtain," Britt said.
Having artificial Martian soil to experiment with means that tests and maybe even growing methods can be perfected long before they are implemented on the planet itself. "You wouldn't want to discover that your method didn't work when we are actually there," said Britt, later adding that he and his team expect "significant learning happening from access to this material." There is not a link for normal people like us to buy the soil, and there are reportedly 30 orders on the books that still need to be filled, but hopefully the UCF researchers are able to scale to a level where anyone can go on a website like Getmoondirt.com to buy a batch.