If humans are really going to live on Mars, then we will have to find a way to grow crops there, and apparently, potatoes are one possible option. A new study has proven that the tuber crop will grow in conditions that are very similar to those found on the Red Planet.
Testing to see whether potatoes can grow on Mars
Researchers at the International Potato Center in Peru teamed up with scientists from NASA and engineers from University of Engineering and Technology in Lima. They began running a series of experiments to see whether they can grow potatoes in atmospheric conditions like those found on Mars. The experiments are also aimed at determining that the vegetables can grow in extreme temperatures here on Earth.
The tests started in February 2016 when researchers planted a potato in a “specially constructed CubeSat contained environment” that was constructed by UTEC engineers using designs and advice from scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California. Researchers are trying to determine the minimum conditions potatoes need in order to survive.
“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,” UTEC researcher Julio Valdiva-Silva said in a statement on CIP’s website. “We will do several rounds of experiments to find out which potato varieties do best.”
Potatoes growing Mars-like conditions
The hermetically-sealed CubeSat container holds soil and the potato. The researchers are using very dry soil collected from the Pampas de La Joya desert in southern Peru, which NASA researchers say is the closest thing to Mars soil that can be found here on Earth.
The CubeSat container delivers water rich with nutrients and controls conditions inside itself to make it seem as if the tuber is growing on the Red Planet. It changes the temperature to simulate daytime and nighttime temperatures on Mars and is able to mimic the air pressure and levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen that are found there.
The container also contains sensors and cameras which live-stream the potato as it grows. It also records the soil as researchers keep tabs on what’s happening inside. If you’re interested in watching the live-stream of the potato growing, you can check it out here.
Although the tests are still ongoing, the researchers said that after the first experiment, they were able to determine that future missions to Mars that aim to grow potatoes there will need to prepare loose soil with nutrients so that the plants will be able to get enough air and water so that the tubers can grow in the soil.