NASA Wants To Grow Potatoes On Mars, Experiments Are Underway In Peruvian Desert's Soil

Posted: Apr 18 2016, 2:50am CDT | by , Updated: Apr 18 2016, 9:40pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

NASA Wants to Grow Potatoes on Mars, Experiments are Underway in Peruvian Desert's Soil
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Scientists have replicated the conditions found on Mars and they are testing 65 varieties of potatoes in Peru.

NASA is planning to send humans to Mars in the near future. One may imagine the obstacles standing in the way of the mission but the biggest challenge will probably be what humans are going to eat once they colonize red planet.

In the movie “The Martian,” Mark Watney uses Mars soil to grow potatoes under the controlled environment and this is what space agency believes is the best solution.

NASA is working with International Potato Center in Peru to replicate the conditions found on the red planet for growing potatoes. Scientists believe that the soil on Mars does have the nutrients that are required by plants to survive on Martian conditions.

In the experiments, researchers are attempting to find which type of potatoes will be best suited for cultivation in extraterrestrial environment and if everything goes according to the plan, people on Mars will be munching on fries and mashed potatoes one day.

“It’s got to be a Martian potato that tastes good,” said Julio Valdivia-Silva,a Peruvian astrobiologist with NASA. “It’s a big challenge to take a living organism somewhere else. We’ve never done this before.”

Potato is a crop known for its ability to adapt to a variety of climates. Moreover, the vegetable is rich in nutrients like carbohydrates, protein, vitamin C, zinc and iron so it is equally tasty and healthy food source.

Researchers have selected the soil of Peru’s Pampas de La Joya desert for this experiment, which is among the driest parts on the Earth and receives only a millimeter of precipitation a year while Peru itself grows more than more than 4,500 varieties of potatoes, more than anywhere else.

For the potato study, 65 varieties of most resilient small potatoes will be used and planted in over 1,300 pounds of soil transported from the desert to Lima based research center. If they grow successfully, spuds will be put under a stimulator which mimics atmospheric conditions on Mars.

The temperature on Mars is minus 84 degrees Fahrenheit on average and it can hit as low as minus 284 degrees. It surface is exposed to high levels of radiations and it has 60% less gravity than Earth. The atmosphere is rich in carbon dioxide with only 5% of oxygen.

Under such stressful and extreme conditions, the taste of potatoes could be different and even so bitter that they can be inedible. These potatoes will have to pass through an acid test before they can be approved for farming on Mars.

“When humans go to Mars, they will want to grow things. They’ll need food,” said Chris McKay a planetary scientist associated with NASA. “I think we’ll be able to find varieties of potatoes that will grow at cold and low-pressure conditions. That would be interesting to know for Mars applications.”

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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