Just like in “The Martian,” it appears that it will be possible to plant potatoes on Mars, as NASA’s Potatoes on Mars project grew the vegetables on tubes designed to mimic the Martian surface.
The study was carried out by NASA and the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru. The tubes were set inside CubeSat, a box designed to undergo launch conditions. CubeSat is a high-tech implement that recreates the Martian weather, and light cycles for agriculture.
Researchers from the University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) in Lima took lifeless soil from the Pampas de la Joya desert in Peru and put it inside CubeSat. Then, they planted a potato in it and monitored the situation. They cited the preliminary results as “positive.”
‘They say once you grow crops somewhere, you have officially colonized it’
The project took place to understand whether potatoes would be able to grow on Mars by planting them in an environment whose conditions are similar to those of the Martian surface.
To achieve this, researchers created CubeSat, a hermetically sealed environment that provides the crop with vitalized water and controlled temperature to emulate what a crop would have to sustain on Mars. It also applies Martian air pressure, oxygen, and CO2 levels. The experiment provides a series of sensors to monitor the conditions alongside streaming equipment to survey how the potato grows under such conditions.
“If the crops can tolerate the extreme conditions that we are exposing them to in our CubeSat, they have a good chance to grow on Mars. We will do several rounds of experiments to find out which potato varieties do best. We want to know what the minimum conditions are that a potato needs to survive,” stated Julio Valivia-Silva, a SETI researcher who worked at NASA and is now working at UTEC.
Apparently, potatoes are best for growing in extreme environments because they have a very high genetic adaptability. The potatoes planted in CubeSat were genetically bred to tolerate extreme conditions, such as drought and high salinity. These were initially developed for farms in places where the soil proves too rough for agriculture.
On The Martian, Matt Damon plays a botanist managing to survive on Mars by planting potatoes in a specialized environment. Andy Weir, the author of the novel in which the movie is based on, researched the subject to ensure the highest level of scientific accuracy possible. Even though, it seems that Martian soil itself lacks the nutrients needed for a crop to grow.
According to NASA, the soils of the Peruvian desert are the most similar to Martian soil that can be found on Earth. Noting that potatoes may be the protagonists of future Martian missions, they have already proven their potential for helping people survive in harsh environments here on Earth.
On the other hand, The International Potato Center was founded to find solutions to world hunger, poverty, and climate change by using potatoes as a reliable source of nutrients. The International Potato Center aims to break boundaries in agriculture, and now it may just be exactly what will happen, making potatoes the most plausible candidate of a crop to be planted on Mars.
Source: International Potato Center