How NASA is Trying to Grow a Potato on Mars - Atlas Obscura
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How NASA is Trying to Grow a Potato on Mars

There is a real plan.

NASA’s Curiosity Rover on the surface of Mars in a self-portrait. (Photo: NASA/Public Domain)

If Matt Damon couldn’t survive without potatoes on Mars, NASA is probably thinking that they can’t either. 

A plan for Martian potatoes is in the works, and starts in a Peruvian desert, one of the driest places on Earth, according to the Wall Street Journal. At Pampas de la Joya, part of the Atacama Desert, NASA scientists are collecting hundreds of pounds of soil to experiment with trying to grow potatoes in dirt mostly devoid of the one thing essential to life: water. 

“It’s got to be a Martian potato that tastes good,” Julio Valdivia-Silva, a NASA astrobiologist, told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s a big challenge to take a living organism somewhere else.”

Water isn’t the only problem, of course. Conditions on Mars are also harsh, with sand storms, little oxygen, and constant subzero temperatures. Scientists will start by trying to grow a variety of potatoes in the soil in the Earth’s atmosphere; if that is successful, they will attempt the same on Mars, experimenting with a variety of fertilizers and water delivery systems along the way. 

They have plenty of time to figure it out. Missions to Mars are still years, if not decades, away from becoming a reality. NASA has said that their earliest plans for a manned mission to the Red Planet are for the 2030s.