Why would NASA send potato farmers to Mars? Because apparently, potatoes can grow there.
According to TechSpot, a recent study conducted by CIP, the Centro Internacional de la Papa (International Potato Center in English), showed that potatoes can grow and survive the harsh conditions on Mars. In February of last year, CIP, assisted by NASA, used a “specially constructed CubeSat” to see if they could grow a potato plant in a Martian atmosphere.
“The hermetically sealed environment controlled temperature to simulate Mars’ days and nights,” stated TechSpot. “[It] also mimicked the planet’s air pressure, carbon dioxide, and oxygen levels.”
The tests were positive. The plant survived the conditions within the CubeSat. Researchers believe that if potatoes can survive in the simulated environment, there is a good chance that they will survive the real thing. More testing needs to be done and is planned. The researchers will try different species of potato to see if some are more resilient than others, but they better have their research concluded by 2033.
Last week “Congress passed a huge funding bill that gives NASA $19.5 billion for space exploration.”
The bill, sponsored by Senator Ted Cruz, is awaiting presidential approval. The bill is looking to give NASA the relevance that it once had.
“The bill authorizes NASA programs like the Space Station, deep space exploration, and asteroid redirect missions for 2017,” TechSpot said.
Furthermore, the bill contains a mandate that NASA plan and execute a manned exploration to Mars by 2033. NASA has already been working on a plan for a mission to Mars for decades. In the way of progress, Congress wants to see what they are calling an “initial human exploration roadmap” by the end of this year. NASA already has the stages of the plan laid out.
The first stage is what NASA calls “Earth Reliant.” The Earth Reliant stage will consist of testing and development of technological systems and training of personnel in low-Earth orbit and on the International Space Station (ISS). This is where they will develop the techniques and technologies that astronauts will need to survive the long trip to Mars.
The second stage is called “Proving Ground.” The Proving Ground will be tests and “complex operations” that are conducted in cislunar space. Cislunar space is the sphere that encompasses the Earth between low orbit and the moon. Space beyond the moon is called “translunar space.” One of the operations that may be conducted in the Proving Ground stage is the construction of a deep space station.
NASA states, “Cislunar space [features] multiple possible stable staging orbits for future deep space missions.”
Staging for a deep-space mission must occur on something in a permanent or semi-permanent orbit. So construction of a space station much further out that the ISS makes sense.
The third phase of NASA’s Mars plan is appropriately called “Earth Independent.” Missions in this stage will require personnel and technology that must be able to survive and function without intervention from those left on Earth. Depending on where Mars is in its orbit, it takes a radio signal traveling at the speed of light four minutes at its closest distance to over 20 minutes at its furthest distance to reach the planet. A return communication would take the same amount of time. This delay is not too significant when working with automated rovers and such, where scientists on the ground can just send commands and wait for the data to be returned. However, trying to communicate mission critical data to a human with a 40-minute round trip becomes impractical. Astronauts will have to be their own Mission Control once they get far enough away from Earth.
According to NASA, “Earth Independent activities build on what we learn on the space station and in deep space to enable human missions to the Mars vicinity, possibly to low-Mars orbit or one of the Martian moons, and eventually the Martian surface.”
So astronauts will not only have to be astronauts. They will have to also be scientists, engineers, computer programmers, architects, mission control specialists, and most importantly, potato farmers because, without a sustainable and renewable food source, any long-term mission to Mars in 2033 will be impossible.
[Featured Image by NASA/JPL via Getty Images]