NASA scientists believe that it could be possible for potatoes to grow on Mars, under the right conditions, in specially-made greenhouses, because the plants also are fairly well adapted to growing in extreme conditions on Earth. In a series of experiments, researchers with the International Potato Center (CIP) used CubeSat contained environments constructed in Lima, Peru, by engineers from University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC), and were successfully able to grow potatoes from cuttings in simulated conditions similar to those on Mars.
Space Daily reported that the CubeSats built by the engineers in Lima were based on advice and designs provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in Ames Research Center (NASA ARC). The project to attempt to grow potatoes under the extreme conditions found on the Red Planet is called the Potatoes on Mars project.
Learning how to grow potatoes on Mars will be beneficial some day in the future, but for now, it will also benefit people on Earth by providing them with methods to grow the tuber in extreme conditions. Various varieties of potatoes are being tested, along with experiments designed to simulate extreme weather conditions, to determine which potato varieties do the best, Julio Valdivia-Silva said. Silva is a research associate with the SETI Institute who has worked at NASA’s Ames Research Center (NASA ARC) and who now works at UTEC in Lima.”
CubeSats are hermetically sealed environments that house “a container holding soil and the tuber.” Nutrient rich water gets delivered to the potato plants, and the CubeSats are able to control the temperature for Mars conditions, both day and night as well as mimic the levels of air pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide found on Mars. There are sensors that constantly monitor the growing conditions and also “live streaming cameras record the soil in anticipation of the potato sprouting.”
According to TIME, researchers from the CIP released a statement saying they conducted the experiments and “planted potatoes in soil from the Pampas de La Joya desert in Southern Peru.” NASA scientist Chris McKay said in the statement that the salty and dry conditions found in this desert result in “the most Mars-like soils found on Earth.”
Time reported that more experiments still need to be done before future colonists of Mars can count on relying on potatoes to one day help sustain them. Also, for potatoes to grow under such extreme conditions, like the ones ficitonal NASA astronaut, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) faces in the movie, The Martian, the plants would have to be grown in greenhouses in a temperature that is carefully regulated and that has the proper water and air quality, similar to the the CubeSat.
According to Business Insider, the CubeSats are rocket-launchable boxes that are rigged with water hoses, pumps, instruments, and LED lights used to emulate Mars-like conditions such as temperature, the light cycles of day and night, gases, and air pressure. The results of the experiments performed by scientists with the CIP, based on designs and advice provided by NASA, showed in time-lapse videos posted at YouTube that it is possible to grow potatoes under some of the most extreme conditions found on Earth. Some of the future experiments that will be conducted will involve using regolith, a type of moon dust, to grow potatoes in.
NASA scientists believe that one day in the future, it will be possible for humans who are colonizing Mars to grow and harvest potatoes in order to help sustain themselves. When researchers in Lima, Peru, with the International Potato Center, or CIP, built artificial environments called CubeSats based on the designs and advice of NASA scientists, they were successful in preliminary attempts at growing potatoes under extreme conditions, similar to the kind that colonists might find on Mars. The experiments and findings also hold promise in helping to feed people on Earth who live in extreme weather conditions, with soil that is relatively poor.
By John samuels
Photo Courtesy 20th Century Fox