CubeSat indicator experiments prove potatoes can grow on Mars. The International Potato Center (CIP) launched a series of experiments to discover if potatoes can grow under Mars atmospheric conditions.
Scientists with the CIP created Mars-like growing conditions inside a CubeSat designed by engineers at the University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) in Lima, Peru and advice provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in Ames Research Center (NASA ARC), California. The potato plants inside the experimental box are reportedly thriving.
The findings show potatoes can also grow under extreme conditions on Earth too.
The box mimics the day-night patterns of Mars, as well as its temperature, air pressure and atmospheric composition. Sensors inside the hermetically-sealed box monitor the progress of the tubers.
“Growing crops under Mars-like conditions is an important phase of this experiment,” Julio Valdivia-Silva, a research associate with the SETI Institute, said in a news release.
“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.”
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.
One advantage, potato has great genetic capacity for adaptation to extreme environment, according to CIP potato breeder Walter Amoros.
“The results indicate that our efforts to breed varieties with high potential for strengthening food security in areas that are affected, or will be affected by climate change, are working,” Amoros said.