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13 Mar 2017

Scientists grow potatoes in Mars-like conditions

Potatoes on Mars

It appears that the 2015 film, The Martian (adapted from an Andy Weir book) was right about growing potatoes on Mars.

In an exciting turn of events, the International Potato Centre (CIP) in Lima, Peru, announced that it had been able to grow potatoes in a simulated Mars-like environment.

The findings from this NASA-backed project raises the plausibility of a Mars colony.

In context

Potatoes on Mars

Potatoes have a good chance of growing on Mars

"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," said Julio Valdivia-Silva, a NASA scientist at the University of Engineering and Technology in Lima, Peru.

Creating a Mars-like environment


Creating a Mars-like environment

The experiment, announced by NASA and CIP in 2015, entered its second phase in February 2016.

Scientists planted a tuber in a rocket-launchable box called a CubeSat designed by engineers from the University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) in Lima, Peru.

The CubeSat was rigged with LED lights, water hoses, pumps and other instruments to emulate Mars-like temperatures, air pressure, gases, and day-night cycles.

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Growing food in extra-terrestrial colonies could soon be reality

"The extraordinary efforts of the team have set the bar for extra-terrestrial farming. The idea of growing food for human colonies in space could be a reality very soon," said Chris McKay, a planetary scientist for NASA's Ames Research Centre.


The experiment and its results

Scientists used the driest desert soil from the Peruvian desert to emulate Mars' soil, and then spiked it with fertilized soil to add nutrients to it.

A tuber was then planted in the mixture, which was then hermetically sealed in the CubeSat with Mars-like conditions.

Scientists then began filming what happened, and the results can be viewed live from CIP's live cams.

Link for the live-stream of the experiment.

The live-stream of the experiment can be viewed at: http://potatoes.space/mars/live-video.html


The implications of the experiment

While the experiment did not emulate Mars' surface temperatures for obvious reasons, the ability of potatoes to survive in extreme conditions have important implications.

Firstly, it increases the plausibility of growing staple food on Mars, especially with talks of a manned mission to Mars on the cards.

Secondly, it provides good news for strengthening food security in areas adversely affected by climate change.

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