Kids exploring life on Mars

HARLINGEN — The spinach seeds seemed to lie dormant in the Martian soil, unable to awaken in the harsh environment.

“Our project is that there’s not enough food in space so what we’re trying to do is use Mars Simulant to grow food,” said John Dante Sandoval, 11, a member of the Intergalactic Mustangs.

The robotics team at Vernon Middle School won the RGV Qualifier 2 on Feb. 16 and is competing again tomorrow. Part of the project involves raising vegetables on the Red Planet.

“Right now we are trying with spinach and so far it hasn’t worked well,” he said. “That’s a great achievement because we don’t get to do this every single day of our lives.”

So how did they get Martian soil?

Actually, it’s from the Mojave Desert.

“The Mars rovers reported back on what the soil compositions were,” said John Bruseth, Intergalactic coach.

“They did composition reports which they sent back to NASA, and then several companies developed simulated soil,” Bruseth said. “It is a very close proximity to what you’d actually have on the Martian surface.”

So why won’t anything grow?

“It hasn’t worked so well because it doesn’t have the nutrients a plant needs to grow,” said John Sandoval. “We tried compost to put in the plants to see what would happen.”

Bruseth said they’d wait a few days to see what would transpire.

This kind of sustainable living will be important on Mars, said Cecely Marie Garcia, 13.

“You aren’t going to live on packets your whole life,” she said matter-of-factly.