The first astronauts who travel to Mars on behalf of NASA in the not-too-distant future will not only need to set up inside of a survivable habitation module, such as one of these ice domes, but they’ll also need to figure out what they’re going to do for food.
So far, potatoes seem to be a very viable food source for Martian astronauts, as they appear to thrive in dry and harsh environments and they contain much of the necessary nutrients people need. In fact, Scientific American reports that potatoes, in and of themselves, have around 10% of the daily recommended caloric intake for humans.
But can potatoes actually grow on Mars? – This is a question that, until now, we really didn’t know the answer to.
Image Credit: Pexels/Pixabay
NASA has been working closely with CIP (International Potato Center) scientists to try growing a wide variety of different types of potatoes in Martian conditions. They are using special containment module that can simulate Martian air pressures, temperatures, and light. They’re also using soil from the Pampas de La Joya desert in Southern Peru that they believe mimics the Martian environment as closely as possible.
“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. We will do several rounds of experiments to find out which potato varieties do best. “We want to know what the minimum conditions are that a potato needs to survive,” says Julio Valdivia-Silva from UTEC.
Also read: Scientists deem vegetables grown in Martian soil "safe" to eat
The goal is to figure out which potato varieties are most likely to thrive in a Mars-like environment so we know what ones to take with us and try to grow when we go. So far, scientists seem 100% certain that they’ll have a variety of successful potato types that will meet the criteria.
So far, it would seem the potatoes the researchers are trying to breed in this unique soil and Martian condition combo have been able to produce tubers, which is a good sign for anyone who’s optimistic about Martian astronauts having potatoes as a part of their diet.
The following video shows a potato tuber growing out of the Martian-like soil in a chamber dedicated to Mars-like conditions:
Source: CIP via Scientific American