The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is investigating about potato varieties that could grow on Mars while maintaining a great taste and shape. The research comes in a context where private and state-owned space agencies are seeking to reach the Red Planet, within the next 15 years.
Alongside the collaboration of the International Potato Center headquartered in Peru, NASA scientists suggest that there must be a potato species able to resist extraterrestrial farming, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal.
If companies and countries are able to establish human settlements on Mars, astronauts would need considerable amounts of food. As a response, researchers are in the search of the perfect potato, to fit cold and low-pressure conditions on the planet.
“It’s got to be a Martian potato that tastes good. It’s a big challenge to take a living organism somewhere else. We’ve never done this before.” said Julio Valdivia-Silva, a Peruvian astrobiologist with NASA, to the The Wall Street Journal.
Researchers from the study are considering all the factors that could interfere with the development of a potato in Mars. Chris McKay, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center and study collaborator, said that the proposal would be interesting for future plans.
Potatoes are extremely adaptable tubers while their fruits are full of carbohydrates, protein, vitamin C, iron, and zinc, said The Wall Street Journal. Just in Peru, there are 4,500 varieties, and not all of them can be eaten, said the International Potato Center.
The Pampas de La Joya Desert in Peru is the perfect place to investigate about harsh conditions that could affect these vegetables. NASA said that it presents Mars-like conditions, particularly because of its dirt and dryness.
Study details and other theories
The team of researchers has selected the 65 most resistant varieties of potatoes. The tubers will be planted in Lima Peru, in a laboratory containing more than 1,300 pounds of soil from Pampas de La Joya.
If the plants effectively grow, they will be moved to another laboratory that simulates the atmospheric conditions on Mars. Researchers calculate that the experiment could show good results, but plants will be possibly smaller, than when growing under normal conditions, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.
“Mars conditions” are extremely tough for living organisms. The average temperature in the planet is minus 84 degrees Fahrenheit, with lows of minus 284 degrees, explains NASA. At the same time, it features 60 percent less gravity than Earth, combined with harsh levels of radiation, and scarce levels of oxygen.
According to what researcher Walter Amoros said to the WSJ, potatoes are going to pass through an acid test which is going to be really really stressful. He thinks potatoes will not grow in the open air of Mars but they will have to be planted under controlled conditions.
Mars: “The next giant leap for mankind”
Space agencies are truly committed to reaching Mars. The non-profit foundation Mars One is currently preparing the first human mission to reach the planet in 2026. There is no plan for a return mission. Nonetheless, more than 200,000 men and women have responded for the foundation’s calls to recruit astronauts.
The entrepreneur Elon Musk, founder of the private space company SpaceX, said on early 2016 that the company has plans to travel to the Red Planet. However, he affirmed that it was going to be “hard and dangerous in every way you can image”.
On the other hand, NASA has been studying Mars conditions for years, aiming to send humans in future missions. Currently, there are some spacecraft and rovers in the planet, such as Opportunity and Curiosity. Moreover, the space agency will launch several robotic missions.
NASA is also developing the Mars 2020 rover, which will cost approximately $1.9 billion. It will be equipped with several science instruments and complex technology, capable of obtaining complex data about the planet.
The Tomatosphere: a massive project to investigate the effects of space conditions on the growth of food
This fascinating project designed for students in the U.S. and Canada wants to analyze the effects of the space environment on the growth of food, in order to impulse future plans of long-term human space travel, said the NASA.
The agency has carried out the Tomatosphere IV, which consisted on the shipment of 600,000 tomato seeds, that were exposed to the conditions of the SpaceX’s Dragon. When seeds return to Earth, they will be studied in classrooms to better understand elements of life required for space missions, added the NASA.
“Traveling to and from Mars could take more than two years, therefore, it is vital to know how to grow food while astronauts make the journey to the Red Planet, spend time on Mars and make the return journey back to Earth,” said NASA.
Source: The Wall Street Journal