In the bestselling book and smash hit movie “The Martian” stranded astronaut #Mark Watney is able to survive for months on the Red Planet by planting and cultivating potatoes inside a habitat, nurtured by human waste and recycled water. NASA and the International Potato Center (CIP) have done the plucky astronaut/farmer one better by growing potatoes in simulated Martian soil inside a CubeSat developed by Peru’s University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC). The potatoes thrived under Mars-like condition inside the CubeSat.
The CubeSat simulated air pressure, temperature, day and night cycle, and atmospheric gasses that adhere on #The Martian surface. The researchers planted potato cuttings and sealed up the CubeSat. The plants grew even under the harshest of conditions.
To be sure, some debate exists whether the potatoes really would thrive on the Martian surface, depending on how exactly similar the simulated soil is to Martian dirt. But the researchers in the potato experiment have concluded that no reason exists why the experiment could not be successful if done on Mars.
As a practical matter, a Mars potato patch would likely still be planted inside a dome or inflatable enclosure. Scientists are skittish about introducing Earth lifeforms to the Martian environment, at least until Mars is thoroughly explored. The crops would likely be easier to grow under controlled conditions, perhaps in a hydroponic facility if not directly in the dirt as has been done for thousands of years on Earth.
However, the experiment proved that Martian agriculture is possible, making settlement of the #Red Planet more likely. Mars colonists will have to grow their own food and not be dependent on a long supply line from Earth if they hope to survive and thrive.
Almost as important, the fact that potatoes could grow on Mars proves that they can grow in a lot of inhospitable places on Earth. Food shortages are still a problem on a planet with increasing populations. The humble potato, versatile and nutritious, could serve as part of a solution to feeding a hungry world.
The first Martians have yet to take up residence on the Red Planet, but already the prospect is having benefits for Earth.