‘The Martian:’ NASA To Grow Potatoes In Peruvian Desert Soil As Simulation Of Mars

In the recent film The Martian, Matt Damon’s astronaut character managed to grow potatoes using Martian soil and his own poo. While it may have seemed far-fetched at the time, it seems this example of space botany is not entirely fictional, as NASA now experiments with growing potatoes in an environment very similar to that on the Red Planet, but without using human poo.

The Inquisitr reported a while back that NASA is undergoing various experiments to grow potatoes as a potential food source on Mars. Due to their intense nutritional value, potatoes are considered one of the best vegetables to grow in an off-Earth situation, and now they have found the perfect soil to use in their experiments.

The Atacama Desert in Peru is one of the driest and most desolate locations on Earth, making its soil the ideal environment to experiment with various varieties of spuds. The potatoes won’t actually be grown in the Atacama Desert itself, of course, but the experiments will be run growing potatoes in a lab using soil from a particular section of the desert in southern Peru.

Reportedly, the soil in the La Joya Pampas section of the Atacama Desert is very similar to that found on Mars and is perfect for their attempts to grow Martian food.

The experiment will involve the cultivation of as many as 100 different varieties of potatoes on 100kg of the soil taken from the La Joya Pampas section of the Atacama Desert in a laboratory in the Peruvian Capital, Lima, at what is dubbed the International Potato Center (CIP), NASA’s partner in the joint project.

According to scientists, the tubers will be subjected to extreme, Mars-like conditions, “that could eventually pave the way to building a dome on the Red Planet for farming the vegetable.”

Of the potato varieties being used in the experiment, 40 are native to the Andes Mountains and are already conditioned to grow in varied ecological zones, where they can withstand sudden climate changes and survive in rocky and dry terrain.

The other 6o varieties of potato are genetically modified to survive with little water and are also immune to viruses.

NASA’s astrobiologist, Julio Valdivia Silva, told AFP that at the end of the project, scientists aim to select the best variety of potato for the job, which will not only be able to grow on Mars, but to also reproduce.

“We’re almost 100 percent certain that many of the selected potatoes will pass the tests.”

The experiment with growing the various varieties of potatoes will not only aid in plans to feed humans on Mars, however, as scientists at CIP — a research company working towards eradicating hunger in the world — hope the experiment will also aid in food security issues back home on Earth.

According to the International Business Times, virologist Jan Kreuze said, “We must be prepared for the future,” adding that the potato experiment will also help in identifying varieties that are suitable to grow in equally adverse conditions on Earth.

According to Valdivia, the potato experiment will take one to two years to show any results and is part of NASA’s broader plan for space farming to serve future manned missions in space.

As reported on the Inquisitr, scientists have already succeeded in growing lettuce aboard the International Space Station, as well as the first flower in space, an orange zinnia, recently successfully grown by astronauts on the ISS and proudly shown off by Commander Scott Kelly during his year in space mission.

[Photo Mars Pathfinder landing site via Wikimedia Commons by NASA/JPL]

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