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Martian Potatoes? NASA is Aiming for Exactly That!

Martian Potatoes! If you have seen the movie – ‘The Martian’, you will know what we are talking about. Yes, the movies says that some really tough-soul potatoes can grow on Mars with a bit of help from human feces in form of fertilizer. That’s gross but hey, wait before you stop reading this article. Here is something interesting you need to know – NASA is trying to find out some really tough potatoes that can grow on Mars and we can only hope that NASA will safely eliminate the possibility of using human feces fertilizer.

NASA started its hunt for such potato breeds in Peru – the land where potatoes were first domesticated. Today Peru produces 4,000 different varieties of potatoes – that largest variety ever in world. No doubt, that’s the best place to start looking for. So, NASA scientists have teamed up with CIP or International Potato Center (ya, we know that’s kind of weirdly abbreviated) in order to find a few potato variants that can call the Martian soil home and the harsh Martian environment their sanctuary.

Phase I Hunt for Martian Potatoes in Progress

You will be glad to know that NASA and CIP have already started working by identifying and isolating 9 varieties of potato clones. These are known as LTVR potatoes and are preliminary considered to be good contenders for becoming Martian Potatoes. LTVR means Lowland Tropic Virus-Resistant. These are specific types of potato clones that are known three reasons:

  • High tolerance to heat and drought.
  • Virus-resistant.
  • Fast growth rate.

As of the first phase, NASA and CIP has already planted these clones in highly controlled laboratory settings that closely mimic the Martian atmospheric and soil conditions. The setting is in Atacama Desert’s La Joya Pampas area which is known for extremely low levels of microbes, very high levels of chemicals known for their high oxidizing abilities and also because there is extreme scarcity of organic material. This makes the soil in that area close to Martian soil. The rest of the settings are controlled in a way that the atmospheric conditions of Mars can be mimicked to get close to 95% carbon dioxide in atmosphere.

Martian Potatoes – NASA Looking for Potatoes that Can Grow on Mars!
Growing Potatoes Under Simulated Martian Conditions

Phase II for Selecting Martian Potatoes

The phase II is yet to begin. This will happen only after NASA and CIP identifies the toughest of all the potatoes variants they are using. Once the right ones are identified, they will be frozen for a period of 9 months. This is necessary so that a trip to Mars can be simulated. Apart from that, once the identified tartars are frozen, they cannot germinate on Earth.

Post-freezing phase will be that of launching the thawed potatoes (of course the variants that survive) and putting them in a CubeSat and hurling them out in space. The reason to do so will be to identify the variants that can survive in low atmospheric conditions that are present on Mars.

The Winners Will Head for Mars

Once the Phase II is completed and NASA identifies the toughest souls (the space agency is looking for at least 5 variants), the clones will be put in waiting for a manned mission to Mars. However, the potatoes may not have to wait that long to gain fame because if NASA manages to find out the toughest of all variants that can survive on Mars, they will be used on Earth too, specifically in the areas that are known for high drought rates and pretty hostile environmental settings right here on our home planet.

As we said before, hopefully NASA and CIP are not considering using human feces as fertilizer as shown in ‘The Martian’. That will be heartbreaking and surely a moment of yikes for we earthlings!

Sources: 1, 2, 3

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