Why can’t I buy the fake Mars dirt?
Recently, a team at the University of Central Florida’s Exolith Lab announced that they’d figured out how to a number of varieties of dirt and clay found on Mars, the Moon, and asteroids. Not only that, but they’d be selling their proprietary space dirt, and because it was dirt, it would literally be dirt-cheap. The UCF Exolab’s website indicates that samples of Mars Dirt™ in amounts under a kilogram are free of charge, and that larger orders cost $20 per kilo, plus shipping.
My mind raced with possibilities. I could build a sandbox in my backyard and fill it with Moon Dirt. I could keep a glass cube of Asteroid Dirt on my desk like I was some wizened professor in a movie and show it to people as some sort of lesson. I could open a bar, cover the floor with Mars Dirt, call the place Mars Bar, and then get sued for copyright infringement. Fake space dirt was going to change my life.
But just when I was getting ready to fill out a request form for some space dirt of my very own, I noticed an advisory saying that the Exolith Lab “generally do[es] not provide simulants for private individuals.”
As a private individual, I was crushed. As a reporter, I was curious why this might have been the case, so I reached out to the Exolith Lab for some clarity.
Via email, Dr. Kevin Cannon of the Exolith Lab explained, “We have no profit motive and supplying [simulants] to private space enthusiasts doesn’t fit with our goals.” He added, “Our main interest is in working with university researchers, space agencies and private companies to make real progress towards exploration.”
Just so I didn’t totally feel let down, Cannon also pointed me towards a company called The Martian Garden, which will sell anyone as much fake Mars dirt as they can handle. However, Martian Garden’s dirt is based off an older, less accurate model for Mars Dirt. It’s just not the same as the Exolith Lab’s hyper-realistic Mars Dirt. My dreams have been dashed upon the harsh red rocks of reality.