Updated 10:09 PM EST, Fri, Jan 28, 2022

Peru is NASA's Simulation Hub for Potato Growth on Mars

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There might come a time when those visiting Mars could stay there and munch on some organically-grown Martian potatoes.

We're not even kidding.

NASA - CIP Partnership

NASA, in collaboration with Peru's International Potato Center (CIP), have begun a project that aims to test whether the country's potatoes have what it takes to grow on one of the most uninhabitable environments known to man -- the dry, arid landscape of Earth's red neighbor, Mars.

The experiment involves the cultivation of about 100 varieties of potatoes on about 200 pounds of soil from La Joya Pampas, one of the driest sectors of the Atacama Desert in southern Peru. According to the scientists who are participating in the experiment, the soil samples from the Atacama Desert are some of the closest they can get to accurately simulating the composition of the soil found on the Red Planet.

The soil samples will then be taken to a CIP laboratory in Lima, which will have additional equipment to further simulate the environment of Mars. This includes its atmosphere, which is mostly filled with carbon dioxide. Apart from these factors, the plants will also be exposed to significant levels of ultraviolet radiation.

In essence, the premise of the experiment is simple. If the Peruvian potatoes could grow in the simulated Martian environment, then there is a good possibility that they could also grow on the Red Planet itself.

Positive Predictions and Timeline

Julio Valdivia Silva, a Peruvian NASA astrobiologist, is confident that the experiment will render positive results, at least to some degree. Among the 100 varieties, about 40 of the potatoes come from the Andes mountains, while the others are genetically modified varieties that are designed to survive with little water.

"We're almost 100 percent certain that many of the selected potatoes will pass the tests," Valdivia said.

The selected tubers for the experiment have very high standards to keep. They must be able to grow in harsh conditions and be able to thrive and reproduce in large quantities as well. Of course, due to a number of the varieties being genetically modified to endure harsh climate conditions and to even resist viruses, there is a very good chance that the experiment will be a success.

As interesting as the experiment is, those whose imaginations have been captured by its ambitious concept will have to wait for some time before the results of the study are finalized.

"We'll have more concrete results in one or two years, Valdivia said.

NASA has recently been focusing a significant amount of its resources in an attempt to make the vast expanse of space more habitable for humans. Previously, scientists succeeded in growing lettuce from the International Space Station. Last month alone, astronauts were also able to grow the first flower in space.

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