Extraterrestrial potato production studied

Researchers from Peru’s potato centres and NASA are trying to 
grow spuds in conditions that mimic Mars

In a move that mirrors the Matt Damon blockbuster “The Martian,” researchers are trying to prove potatoes can grow on Mars.

The International Potato Center (CIP) recently launched a series of experiments to discover if potatoes can grow under Mars atmospheric conditions. CIP’s proof of concept experiment to grow potatoes in simulated Martian conditions began on Feb. 14, 2016 when a tuber was planted in a specially constructed contained environment built by engineers from University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) in Lima, Peru, based upon designs and advice provided by NASA.

So far researchers say the results have been both positive and helpful to address some issues back here on Earth. In particular they say it could help grapple with the thorny question of how to produce enough food in a changing environment.

“Growing crops under Mars-like conditions is an important phase of this experiment,” says Julio Valdivia-Silva, a research associate working on the project. “If the crops can tolerate the extreme conditions that we are exposing them to, they have a good chance to grow on Mars.”

The sealed environment houses a container holding soil and the tuber. Inside this hermetically sealed environment the CubeSat delivers nutrient-rich water, controls the temperature for Mars day and night conditions and mimics Mars air pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. Sensors constantly monitor these conditions and live-streaming cameras record the soil in anticipation of the potato sprouting.

Potatoes were chosen for their genetic capacity to adapt to harsh environments.

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