NASA wants to grow potatoes on Mars, tests underway in the Peruvian desert
It’s a spud world after all.
Potatoes. They’re perhaps one of the most nutritional foods foods on our green Earth (if they’re kept away from the deep fryer, that is.) Given than one medium-sized spud is rich in carbohydrates, protein and vitamin C, and packs about 110 calories of fat, sodium and cholesterol free nutrition, it’s clear they are an excellent dietary component.
So with research picking up on sending humans to Mars--a quest that India may well be a part of--the question of what humans there would eat when they reach there is actually quite simply answered.
To make this a reality, it’s only practical to now figure out a way to grow this vegetable on the planet instead of trucking them along on the mission. On the quest to do so are researchers at the Lima-based International Potato Center along with scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA,) who are trying to figure out what breed of potato would best lend itself to being cultivated on the Red Planet.
If this scenario rings familiar, that’s because it is--in last year’s Matt Damon film The Martian, the intrepid (albeit stranded) protagonist goes about trying to figure out how grow potatoes on Mars, and succeeds. While this was science fiction at the time, it now could well be rooted in fact.
With their special tenacity to grow in a range of climatic conditions, potatoes appear to be the best choice to sustain the first colonists on Mars. And to put this to the test, experiments at cultivating them in harsh environments are underway in the Pampas de La Joya Desert of Peru--one of the driest places on our planet. This location has been long-favored by NASA for conducting experiments, given its resemblance to the surface of Mars.
The potato experiments there comprises 65 varieties of the vegetable, where scientists aim to determine which is the best suited for deployment on Mars. They will be moving about 590 kilograms of this soil to Peru, where they will more closely simulate Martian atmospheric conditions to find out which of these potatoes comes out victorious.
Peruvian Scientist Walter Amoros states that it will be impossible for potatoes to grow in open air on Mars, given the inhospitable clime: Martian surface temperatures swing from 28 to -175 degrees celsius, it’s atmosphere comprises 96 percent carbon dioxide, and the planet’s gravity is 40 percent that of earth. Amoros said, “I don’t think they’ll grow in the open air [on Mars]. They will have to plant them under controlled conditions, in domes.”
If they discover that Martian soil happens to be unsuited to growing the vegetable, they could explore other methods of cultivation, namely hydroponics and aeroponics where nutrients are provided via water and air. Either way, it’s clear what the menu of the first Martian travelers is going to look like.