While the prospect of establishing the first human colony on Mars is, at best, several decades away, we can at least count on the availability of America’s favorite condiment: ketchup.
On Monday, the Heinz Company announced that it had manufactured ketchup from tomatoes grown in soil similar to Mars regolith — the dusty, nutrient-sparse dirt that covers the Red Planet.
The experiment was conducted at the Florida Institute of Technology’s AldrinSpace Institute, in a greenhouse dubbed the “RedHouse,” as it mimicked Martian conditions. Their scientists also suggested that their methods could help to grow crops here on Earth as climate change continues to increase. These techniques, said Heinz, may soon play an “important role considering the soil degradation our planet is currently facing.”
Heinz claimed their new “Marz Edition” ketchup is indistinguishable from the variety produced from conventional, Earth-bound tomatoes. They also tried to prove that the flavor would survive spaceflight by sending a bottle up to 22 miles in the atmosphere, where temperatures drop down to minus 94° Fahrenheit, before returning it to earth.
The Aldrin Institute’s RedHouse required artificial LED lighting in lieu of natural sunlight and grew their tomato crop in more than 7,700 pounds of soil comparable to Mars regolith. Further testing was done to confirm that the sauce they made was as good as the original.
Former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino, now a professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia University, told the Daily Mail that a “familiar taste … is important for wellbeing and morale” during a long space odyssey.
“In space, we have a saying, ‘it’s not about the food it’s about the sauce’– we could choose what food we wanted to eat up there but lots of the dishes came dehydrated and a little bit bland, so a good dollop of sauce always made your meals delicious,” Massimo also said in a separate statement on the Heinz website.
He also claimed to be one of the few astronauts who actually gained weight during one of his NASA voyages — a feat he credited to his obsession with dousing every space meal with ketchup.
Heinz’s Chief Growth Officer Cristina Kenz said they intend to “take the learnings into continuing our commitments towards growing sustainable crops.”
Dr. Andrew Palmer, a researcher at Aldrin Space Institute who led the project, has said that “achieving a crop that is of a quality to become Heinz Tomato Ketchup was the dream result,” adding that “working with the Tomato Masters at Heinz has allowed us to see what the possibilities are for long term food production beyond Earth.”
NASA has said that they hope to send the first humans to Mars by the mid-2030s, spurred on by private sector billionaires such as SpaceX’s Elon Musk. For his part, Musk’s goal is to see at least 1 million civilians there by 2050.