One of the many hurdles involved in colonizing Mars – apart from actually getting there – is figuring out how to support life once we arrive. For example, will we able to grow vegetation in the harsh Mars climate?
According to promising data from the International Potato Center (yeah, apparently that’s a thing), the answer may be yes… so long as you like potatoes.
Known as CIP from its Spanish-language name Centro Internacional de la Papa, the Lima, Peru-based facility in February 2016 launched an experiment to grow potatoes in simulated Martian conditions.
They planted a tuber in a specially constructed CubeSat contained environment developed with help from NASA. The hermetically sealed environment controlled temperature to simulate Mars’ days and nights and also mimicked the planet’s air pressure, carbon dioxide and oxygen levels.
Preliminary results from the testing are positive.
Julio Valdivia-Silva, a research associate with the SETI Institute who now works at UTEC in Lima, said that if the crops can tolerate the extreme conditions they are exposing them to in the CubeSat, they have a good chance to grow on Mars.
They plan to do several rounds of experiments to find out which potato varieties do best but have concluded that humans on Mars missions that aim to grow potatoes will need to prepare soil with a loose structure and nutrients that allow tubers to obtain enough air and water to grow.