An American university is selling "Martian dirt," for 20 U.S. dollars a kilogram plus shipping since astrophysicists developed a method for creating Martian and asteroid soil known as simulants.
The findings published this month in the journal Icarus described the standardized formula based on the chemical signature of the soils on Mars collected by the Curiosity rover.
"The simulant is useful for research as we look to go to Mars," said physics professor Dan Britt, a member of University of Central Florida (UCF)'s Planetary Sciences Group.
"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," said Britt.
It came after scientists looking for ways to grow food on Mars, inspired by the Martian movie. It demanded testing their techniques on soil that most closely resembles the stuff on Mars.
But researchers currently use simulants that aren't standardized, so any experiment can't be compared to another in an apples-to-apples kind of way.
Kevin Cannon, the paper's lead author and a post-doctoral researcher at UCF, said there are different types of soil on Mars and on asteroids.
"With this technique, we can produce many variations," Cannon said. "Most of the minerals we need are found on Earth although some are very difficult to obtain."
Britt and Cannon believe there is a market for the simulant. The team already has about 30 pending orders, including one from Kennedy Space Center for half a ton.
Cannon said it would help accelerate the drive to explore our solar system as demonstrated by investments already being made by Space X, Blue Origin and other private companies.