Who knew there’s an International Potato Center? There is – in Peru. They’re teaming with NASA to grow potatoes in soil taken from the Atacama Desert. Peru has 4,000 varieties of potatoes to choose from.
[Like Mars, Atacama soil has] extremely low levels of microorganisms and organic material as well as high levels of oxidizing chemical elements. For these reasons, the soils in Atacama have been used as analogous to Mars in research scenarios.
They’ll freeze the potatoes they grow and try to revive them. Is it possible The Martian could have revived his frozen potatoes? That would have made life on Mars a lot more comfortable.
Eventually, NASA wants to grow potatoes in zero gravity, in an enclosed atmosphere inside a CubeSat in space. Then, someday, in an enclosed greenhouse on Mars.
Growing potatoes for Mars will teach us about feeding people on Earth, too.
We see the science, educational, and humanitarian goals as being intertwined. In the process of working together toward establishing a community on Mars, our students will also be establishing a community on Earth.
Science fiction has settled on the potato for Mars colonists. I’d like to see NASA confirm that guess.