From Space Salad to Salty Waters: The Planetary Society Announces STEP Grant Winners

The latest recipients will investigate deep-space agriculture and study extraterrestrial-like salty lakes on Earth

For Immediate Release
May 31, 2023

Danielle Gunn
Email: [email protected]
Phone: +1-626-793-5100

Pasadena, CA (May 31, 2023) — The Planetary Society is thrilled to announce the second round of winners of its groundbreaking Science and Technology Empowered by the Public (STEP) grant program. This year's winning projects are an investigation into deep-space agriculture and a study of Earth's salty lakes that resemble oceans of other planets and moons.

The deep-space agriculture project is helmed by Dr. Andrew Palmer of the Florida Institute of Technology, who, along with his team, has been awarded $50,000 for their project “Evaluation of food production systems for lunar and Martian agriculture.” The grant will support their research into growing edible plants in simulated deep-space conditions comparing the use of hydroponics with simulated lunar and Martian regolith. This innovative research aims to provide fresh crops for long-term space travel, overcoming the challenges of both growth methods and contributing to the sustainable exploration of space.

The salty lake research project is led by Dr. Jacob Buffo of Dartmouth College and his diverse team of co-investigators in various disciplines from a variety of institutions. They have been granted $49,284 for their proposal, “Multiscale Characterization of Brine-Rich Planetary Analog Environments.” The team will investigate several hypersaline lakes in British Columbia, Canada, that share compositional similarities with the past and present bodies of liquid water of other celestial bodies like Mars, Europa, and Enceladus. This research could provide vital insights into alien environments and their habitability.

For its entire history, through the crowdfunding support of its members and donors, The Planetary Society has funded science and technology projects to provide a way for supporters to play an active role in space exploration while enabling advances in space science and technology. The STEP grant recipients were chosen through an open, international, and competitive process, embodying the organization's commitment to exploring other worlds, finding life, and defending Earth from potential threats.

The Halicioglu Family Foundation has generously supported the development and implementation of the STEP Grants program.

Details about the winners' projects can be found in an article published today by Planetary Society Chief Scientist and STEP grant program manager, Dr. Bruce Betts.

2023 STEP grant winners
2023 STEP grant winners Dr. Jacob Buffo (left) and Dr. Andrew Palmer (right), leaders of the projects funded by the 2023 round of The Planetary Society's STEP grants.Image: Chris Carr/Georgia Tech/Florida Institute of Technology

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About The Planetary Society

With a global community of more than 2 million space enthusiasts, The Planetary Society is the world’s largest and most influential space advocacy organization. Founded in 1980 by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Louis Friedman and today led by CEO Bill Nye, we empower the public to take a meaningful role in advancing space exploration through advocacy, education outreach, scientific innovation, and global collaboration. Together with our members and supporters, we’re on a mission to explore worlds, find life off Earth, and protect our planet from dangerous asteroids. To learn more, visit