Is growing potatoes on Mars science or science fiction? Those who saw the movie or read the book ‘The Martian’ probably asked themselves when they saw astronaut Mark Watney ( Matt Damon ) survive on the red planet by growing a potato field. Notably by fertilizing the Martian earth, and therefore sterile, with its own excrements.
The issue also tickled the US Space Agency (NASA), which had announced in early 2016, a few months after the release of blockbuster, to launch a study on the subject with the help of the International Potato Center ) .
Since the experiments could not take place directly on Mars, the scientists first built a CubeSat, a high-tech box equipped with pumps and pipes to deliver very rich nutrients – but no excrement – LED lights And instruments to reproduce as accurately as possible “atmospheric conditions – pressure, oxygen and CO2 levels, day / night light cycles and levels of Mars radiation”.
n February 2017, researchers then filled their CubeSat of land from the particularly arid La Joya Peruvian desert . They then planted a tuber, selected from 4000 varieties of potatoes, and installed two cameras that broadcast everything that happens 24/24 in the box, then sealed it.
The potato growsGood news, the preliminary results “are positive,” said the press release published on 8 March by the CIP. Concretely, a potato plant has already grown well, as this accelerated video recorded between 16 February and 5 March 2017 shows.
If this plan is able to tolerate the extreme conditions we have submitted to it in our CubeSat, then it has a good chance of pushing on Mars as well,” said Julio Valdivia-Silva, a NASA scientist. Lima University of Engineering and Technology We are now going to experiment with other plans to determine which variety of potato grows best, and to determine what conditions are necessary for the survival of a plan. potato.”
The skeptics will not fail to point out that even if the Peruvian soil used is particularly infertile and close to the sand that can be found on Mars, it is not the same. And it probably contains some microbes that may have helped to develop the plan. Therefore, the experiment does not prove 100% that it is possible to grow potatoes on Mars.
Research to anticipate climate change
Another criticism raised, researchers used potato cuttings rather than seeds. The potatoes that will be sent on March to the future astronauts will have been conditioned for the journey, that is to say either thermostabilized – heated at high pressure – or irradiated. This would make a crop by cutting “complicated”, notes Nasa on Twitter.
— NASA Watch (@NASAWatch) March 9, 2017
Scientists remain confident, however, as Bruce Bugbee, a Nasa botanist who indicated in 2015 that he saw absolutely no reason why potatoes could not grow in the Martian soil, reports Science Alert . He had, however, explained that the method developed in Alone on Mars, either mixing the earth with human excrement, could be “toxic to plants”.
The CIP also recalls that in addition to probably helping future Martian farmers, the purpose of their research is also to help land farmers. “Our results indicate that our techniques work to grow varieties in affected areas, or that will be affected by climate change,” scientists say.