It appears great endeavors do not resume any longer to the big screen, as they have transcended into reality. Such is the plan of NASA which involves growing potatoes on Mars, quite similar to the recent movie The Martian, starring Matt Damon.
The space agency is currently experimenting with the vegetables like botanist Mark Watney did in the movie. In the absence of real Martian soil, NASA has to make do with earth from the Peruvian desert, which is known to be quite similar to the one from the red planet. For the upcoming trip to Mars, growing food outside of Earth is a crucial step. According to the space agency, while in the movie Watney plants potatoes in Martian soil in the Hab controlled environment, the actual soil of Mars already has the nutrients necessary for the vegetables.
At the moment, NASA is working with the International Potato Center based in Lima to test 65 types of Peruvian potatoes. Since the vegetable is highly adaptable to various climates, they are trying to determine which variety is best suited for space cultivation. Potatoes would be crucial for the astronauts that will land on Mars, because they are rich in protein, iron, carbohydrates, zinc and vitamin C, and thus very nutritious.
The experiment is taking place in Peru because the country features one of the driest places on our planet, La Joya Desert. Part of the Atacama Desert, the region is praised by NASA for its conditions similar to the ones of Mars. However, even if they do figure out how to grow the vegetables on Martian soil, there is the matter of their evolution in the hostile environment of the red planet.
The average temperature of Mars is minus 84 degrees Fahrenheit. Not to mention the dust storms and high levels of radiation, along with its thin atmosphere made of carbon dioxide. According to International Potato Center scientists Walter Amoros,
“I’ve done tests under stressful conditions, but never so stressful. I don’t think they’ll grow in the open air [on Mars]. They will have to plant them under controlled conditions, in domes.”
This is not the first food experiment conducted by NASA. The space agency has previously tasked astronauts on the International Space Station with growing plants in order to understand how those are affected by the lack of gravity.
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