NASA is keen on growing potatoes on Mars. The space agency has partnered with a company in Peru to copy what Matt Damon’s character astronaut Mark Watney managed to achieve in the movie The Martian.
In the classic case of real life imitating movies, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is working with Peru’s International Potato Center (CIP) to simulate Martian conditions here on Earth and attempt to grow potatoes and other vegetables. The new collaborative project between the two will see a crop of potatoes grown on Earth under the same conditions found on the Red Planet.
In the movie, Watney recreates the conditions back on Earth to grow potatoes, but NASA and CIP are trying to do the opposite. CIP will begin experimenting growing potatoes on Earth, except that they will attempt to grow them while simulating the conditions on Mars, reported CNBC. Given the fact that NASA is keen to establish a colony on Mars in the foreseeable future, it wants the inhabitants of the Red Planet to be able to grow their own crops for a sustained and long-term presence. Growing food is one of the most essential and basic requirements if humans intend to colonize Mars.
NASA chose the location because the soil from Peru’s Pampas de La Joya desert is nearly identical to the one found on Mars. Scientists hope to use the soil and then simulate the Martian atmosphere. Under these modified conditions, they intend to develop ways of growing potatoes and perhaps other vegetables on Mars. Once perfected, these techniques could be used for future Space exploration, reported Auto Evolution.
Surprisingly, growing potatoes on Mars isn’t very difficult. The Martian atmosphere is almost 95 percent carbon dioxide, which is actually quite conducive to the crop. Given the atmospheric conditions prevalent on the Red Planet, scientists are optimistic that there could be bumper crops of potatoes as compared to Earth. Preliminary calculations indicate that potatoes grown in Martian conditions would offer a yield that’s two to four times than the equivalent crop in a normal Earth-based environment.
Why grow potatoes on Mars? Besides the great climate for the crop, potatoes are quite resilient and nutritious, two aspects that are direly needed by astronauts on a hostile and alien atmosphere. Not to mention the fact that they will be millions of miles from Earth and the only way to survive for long durations would be to grow crops.
From a nutritional perspective, potatoes are excellent source of vitamin C, iron, and zinc, and they contain critical micronutrients, reported the Examiner. Aside from the benefits of the crop, Joel Ranck, CIP Head of Communications, provided other reasons for growing the tuber in Mars-like conditions.
“How better to learn about climate change than by growing crops on a planet that died two billion years ago? We need people to understand that if we can grow potatoes in extreme conditions like those on Mars, we can save lives on Earth.”
What Ranck implied was the fact that astronauts aren’t the only beneficiaries if the experiment succeeds. He pointed out that if these plants can grow in extreme conditions such as the ones on Mars, they could be easily farmed on Earth.
Apparently, CIP had to slap on the added benefit of tackling climate change and its impact on future crops to truly convince NASA. Essentially, potatoes will play a critical role in improving global food security, which is being increasingly threatened by climate change. They could assist in combating scarcity of food and address malnutrition in the underdeveloped regions of the world.
Potatoes won’t be sprouting anytime soon on Mars though, as NASA intends to send astronauts to the Red Planet in about 20 years’ time. But “The idea of growing food for human colonies in space could be a reality very soon,” said Chris McKay, planetary scientist of the NASA’s Ames Research Center, reported the Free Press Journal.
[Photo by James A. Guilliam / Getty Images]