NASA has teamed up with the International Potato Center (CIP) in an effort to find out if the potato will be part of the Mars mission.
The collaboration will put 100 different varieties of potatoes through a series of tests to see if its resilience is enough to survive the harsh Martian conditions. This effort will also help find a plant that can feed those here on Earth affected by famine.
“How better to learn about climate change than by growing crops on a planet that died 2 billion years ago?” said Joel Ranck, CIP Head of Communications. “We need people to understand that if we can grow potatoes in extreme conditions like those on Mars, we can save lives on Earth.”
Researchers will replicate Martian conditions by using soil from the Pampas de La Joya Desert in Peru and altering the atmospheric conditions in a lab.
"We're almost 100 percent certain that many of the selected potatoes will pass the tests,” Julio Valdivia-Silva, a Peruvian NASA astrobiologist, said in a press release.
The potatoes will have to survive more than the Mars conditions, though. The study will also look at how certain potato plants handle the freezing, which will take place during a Mars trip to prevent germination. The plants will then be thawed to see if the potatoes can survive to be planted on the foreign planet. The final test will be sending the potatoes into space via a CubeSat to see if they can grow in a low-gravity environment.
They're confident the potatoes will be able to survive.
“The extraordinary efforts of the team have set the bar for extraterrestrial farming. The idea of growing food for human colonies in space could be a reality very soon.” said Chris McKay, planetary scientist of the NASA Ames research center.
Humans have a tough road ahead if we're going to become a spacefaring species. But it's ultimately going to help us survive in the long run. If astronaut Scott Kelly can find a way to garden in space, researchers can find a way to grow potatoes on Mars.
Photo Credit: ESA via Getty Images
Natalie has been writing professionally for about 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at PCMag.com where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker