NASA is planning to see that the first astronauts to land on Mars eat good food: potatoes. A project with the International Potato Center is investigating growing potatoes on Mars. The first Astronauts had to endure food that came in tubes, then bite sized-sandwich cubes and squeeze bottle drinks. The food on the International Space Station is a world apart from what these pioneers had to live on. But the first space farers to land on the Red Planet will be there for quite a while and growing their own food will be as priority. The recent movie “The Martian” with Matt Damon has the protagonist growing potatoes to survive while a rescue expedition is launched. His choice of potatoes is a wise one.
NASA is working with the International Potato Center to discover how to grow potatoes on Mars and other difficult environments.
NASA scientists are working with the International Potato Center in Peru to see how potatoes could be grown in a dome setting in the Martian environment. Working from Peru, where the soil closely resembles that of Mars, conditions will be duplicated under controlled conditions to see how growing potatoes on Mars will happen in the 95% carbon dioxide Martian atmosphere. Crop yields are expected to be four times as high due to the potatoes being able to thrive in a CO2 rich environment. Currently, early potatoes take 90-110 days to grow. This means a dependable and easily replenish able supply for Mars explorers or colonists.
The potato was cultivated in a harsh environment: the highlands of ancient Peru
The potato was first cultivated, not by coincidence in Peru some 2,500 years ago. The high altitudes of Peru accommodated the tuber and eventually it was transported back to Europe by the first European explorers. The nutritional level of the potato is an attractive element in providing for the first Mars expeditions and the likelihood of high crop yields is another benefit. Living space will be at a premium in the first settlements and high crop yields of nutritious and familiar and desirable foods like the potato will make the stresses involved in living many millions of miles from their native planet easier. On earth a group of high school students have won NASA’s partnership in an experiment to see if potatoes will sprout in zero-g environments like the Space Station. Growing potatoes on Mars and in space is exciting research.
A friendly food in a hostile environment: the potato.
The first Mars explorers will be living in a hostile environment, far from green trees and fields. Scientists are anticipating the stresses from isolation, environmental dangers and a sense of facing the unfamiliar. Having a familiar and comforting food, a replenish able food source and a connection with the home planet left behind will go a long way to the Mars Mission’s success. That food source is the potato. A humble plant, full of vitamins and minerals, rugged enough to grow under hostile conditions and still provide abundant crop yields, growing potatoes on Mars holds a promise for the future of space exploration beyond the bounds of earth.