Good news for future Mars explorers. Potatoes can be grown on Mars. This has been proved by the experiments launched by the International Potato Center (CIP). The center wanted to know whether potatoes can be grown in Mars atmospheric conditions. It also wanted to demonstrate that tubers can also be grown in extreme climates on Earth.
Experiment to grow potatoes in Mars-like conditions had begun on February 14, 2016 when a tuber was planted in a CubeSat built by engineers from University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) in Lima based upon designs and advice provided by the NASA’s Ames Research Center, California. Preliminary results are positive.
The Potatoes on Mars project was conceived by CIP to both understand how potatoes might grow in Mars conditions and also see how they survive in the extreme conditions similar to what parts of the world already suffering from climate change "Growing crops under Mars-like conditions is an important phase of this experiment," says Julio Valdivia-Silva, a research associate with the SETI Institute who has worked at Ames Research Center and now works at UTEC in Lima."If the crops can tolerate the extreme conditions that we are exposing them to in our CubeSat, they have a good chance to grow on Mars. We will do several rounds of experiments to find out which potato varieties do best. "We want to know what the minimum conditions are that a potato needs to survive," he said.
The CubeSat houses a container holding soil and the tuber. Inside this hermetically sealed environment the CubeSat delivers nutrient rich water, controls the temperature for Mars day and night conditions and mimics Mars air pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. Sensors constantly monitor these conditions and live streaming cameras record the soil in anticipation of the potato sprouting.
According to CIP potato breeder Walter Amoros, potato has a genetic capacity for adaptation to extreme environments. CIP has tapped into that capacity by breeding potato clones that tolerate conditions such as soil salinity and drought. CIP was able to show proof that potatoes could grow in this dry, salty soil with some help from fertilised Earth soil for both nutrition and structure.