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NASA Wants to Grow Potatoes on Mars

posted: 12/23/15
by: Danny Clemens
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Potatoes could become the galaxy's first transplanetary delicacy, as NASA has announced a fascinating plan to grow the starchy plant under Mars-like conditions.

Working in concert with the International Potato Center, the agency plans to leverage the "incredible resilience" of potato plants to feed astronauts traveling to one of the most inhospitable places known to humankind.

Scientists will recreate Martian conditions within a laboratory setting, using soil from Peru's Pampas de La Joya desert to simulate the Red Planet. Lessons learned from this investigation will eventually contribute to the development of a controlled dome on Mars capable of supporting agriculture activities.

Potato experiment for Mars
International Potato Center (Handout photo)

"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." Chris McKay, planetary scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, remarks in a news release.

Related: Can Flowers Thrive Aboard the International Space Station?

The project could have an even bigger impact close to home. A plant resilient enough to survive on Mars could be integral in the global fight against poverty and malnutrition, especially as the planet continues to experience the intensified impacts of climate change.

Globally, the potato crop is expected to benefit from rising levels of carbon dioxide. While Mars' majority-carbon dioxide atmosphere is a far cry from that of Earth (which contains only trace amounts of the gas), growing potatoes in a high-carbon environment could help scientists better prepare for a higher-carbon future here on Earth.

"How better to learn about climate change than by growing crops on a planet that died two billion years ago?" International Potato Center's Joel Ranck says. "We need people to understand that if we can grow potatoes in extreme conditions like those on Mars, we can save lives on Earth."

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