NASA testing whether Potatoes can Grow on Mars

Different potato varieties. – The potato is the vegetable of choice in the United States. On average, Americans devour about 65 kg of them per year. New potato releases by ARS scientists give us even more choices of potatoes to eat.

Different potato varieties. – The potato is the vegetable of choice in the United States. On average, Americans devour about 65 kg of them per year. New potato releases by ARS scientists give us even more choices of potatoes to eat. Public Domain Image, source Wikimedia

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

The humble potato is apparently so adaptable to different climatic conditions, NASA scientists are conducting serious tests, to see if the hardiest varieties could grow on the planet Mars. My question – what does this radical adaptability say about climatic food resilience, back here on Earth?

Echoing Ridley Scott’s The Martian, Nasa is running tests to see if potatoes could survive the climatic extremes of the red planet

“The Martian is completely possible,” says astrobiologist Julio Valdivia-Silva, the principal scientist working on the experiment in Peru.

Valdivia-Silva says the technology is growing at an “exponential” rate just as efforts to learn more about Mars are gathering pace.

Valdivia-Silva and his team aim to replicate Mars-like conditions on earth using a dome to create the same atmosphere, and soil consisting of sands brought from the Pampas de la Joya desert, part of the Atacama desert in southern Peru and one of the world’s driest and most nutrient-poor ecosystems.

Why the potato? The resilience of the humble spud combined with its huge number of species, genotypes and varieties means it can be grown from sea level to 4,700 metres above sea level while resisting drought, extreme heat and cold, salinity and UV radiation. It is also pound-for-pound one of the most nutritious staples as it is packed with vitamin C, zinc, iron, proteins and carbohydrates.

But Mars may be a whole new league of inhospitability. Temperatures on the planet vary wildly, between a high of 20C (68F) at its equator in summer to a low of -153C at the poles, according to Nasa . Its atmosphere is 95% carbon dioxide, 3% nitrogen and just 0.13% oxygen, which means the potatoes may grow fast but end up undersized. In addition, the dusty planet lacks ground water and there are winds of up to 60mph.

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Water might be the biggest issue. Air pressure on Mars is so low, any liquid water usually just boils away. Even attempting to trap the water vapour in a plastic greenhouse, like the movie “The Martian”, might not help. All the potatoes I have ever grown love their water. But these conditions, low pressure, low water boiling point, extreme dryness, also apply to a lesser extent to the thin air of the High Andes, the source of some of the varieties of potatoes being tested.

One thing for sure – if a major, staple food crop is so adaptable, there is a realistic chance of growing it on another planet, claims that a few degrees global warming might cause mass starvation are utterly implausible. Absolute worst case, we might all have to develop a taste for more potatoes.

155 thoughts on “NASA testing whether Potatoes can Grow on Mars

      • Yes, the film was pathetic scientifically. But this question of terraforming Mars is highly relevant to all the money that is being thrown into climate modelling.. The carbon scare tactics are just an excuse for the tens of billions of investment. The danger is that thwy will similarly try to use carbon scare tactics to justify doing there initial testing on our home planet rather than Mars.

      • Marcus: Did you read the book or just watch the movie? The book was an excellent traipse through the difficulties he faced.

      • Well isn’t that special ! Did you ever see such a culturally diversified mess of potatoes in your life ??
        You can buy that same exact trial mix at the Sunnyvale Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. All organic and bristling with carbon.

    • Egad. Did NASA never hear of Lichen?
      Lichen is pretty much plant, animal and fungus in a single organism. A self contained ecosystem, where the waste of one component is food for the next. If Lichen can’t terraform Mars nothing can.

      • Wait…you mean it’s OK to change the atmosphere on a planet we do not live on, were not born on, did not evolve on…to invade like a plague and alter it to make it more human friendly…but it’s a moral, philosophical, scientific, and GREEN failing to have any affect whatsoever on planet Earth?? :-O
        Buncha hypocrits. 🙂

      • The physical properties of H2O don’t change just because it’s Mars. At Mar’s Low pressure – all the liquid water boils away at any biologically relevant temp for which the potatoe’s enzymes and cell walls evolved.
        Dead is dead when the liquid water boils away or forms ice cyrstals rupturing cell walls and cell organelles.

      • “joelobryan
        March 16, 2016 at 10:39 pm”
        Dude! They will just use heavy H2O man. That’s real heavy….man!

      • “Ben D
        March 16, 2016 at 11:01 pm”
        Not sure how they will “solve” the magnetic field, gravity and radiation “problems” on Mars for current humans in their current form, but it seems they believe smashing rocks together is what we do best to solve problems! Does CO2 (~95% CO2 atmosphere) filter out UV? I don’t think so, so in that case the planet will be sterile (Given an earth based example). If we earth bound apes ever get to deposit our “DNA” on another rock, I am sure, given time, that life will evolve into a new species, humanoid, but not human as we know it. And this rock as well as Mars has a “shelf-life” of ~5billion years before being consumed by Old Sol!
        I guess we had better get to it. Oh wait…we are still throwing rocks at each other, in disagreement as to which God is “THE GOD” and worrying about that deadly planet killing trace gas CO2.
        Meanwhile, all OTHER life on this rock will continue, until it can’t, and it won’t be THEIR fault!

      • They cant get CO2 satellites into orbit mate. Strangely they are also with Orion doing work to make it safe for Astronauts to travel through the VA belts, but I thought we did that without any problems with 1960s tech.
        I also fail to see how we can change the atmosphere for Mars when we can’t even figure out CO2 in our own.
        NASA is one massive black hole (the only one ever found) for swallowing money

      • Patrick MJD March 16, 2016 at 11:37 pm
        Haha…it was 1989, they were under pressure from Pres. Bush Snr to come up with a plan for the century ahead….and it was not intended for it to be in the public domain for people like you to questions…plus as they say…it seemed like a good idea at the time.. If you look at the website from which it came…the plan is being updated and problems wrt terraforming raised…
        Btw…there is a certain irony that if it weren’t for the primitive V2 era ‘rocks’ being thrown around at each other on Earth…this discussion about growing potatoes on Mars would not be taking place.. )

      • Even you can’t grow them in a martian atmosphere, if the pressure and temperatures don’t have to be as high as required by humans, construction requirements and hence cost still go way down.

      • Patrick, a thicker atmosphere means liquid water becomes possible, with that you can get plants growing which in turn will create O2. Once O2 levels start building up, so will ozone levels, which will take care of the UV problem.
        There is still the problem that the lack of a magnetic field means the solar wind will immediately start stripping away your atmosphere, but that will take millions of years.

    • One thing to pressurize a small house, some work facilities and their suits. Another thing altogether to pressurize acres of farmland required to feed people. Probably many acres based on how little sunlight they will be getting there compared to the closer Earth.

    • If it’s a dead rock, why not? A dead rock in a gravity well is almost useless to us.
      But a living rock in a gravity well is exactly what all the exo planet hubbub is about.
      If we can get that from mars in a few hundred years, frankly, it’s a no-brainer.
      I’d love to see it commence in our life times.
      Saves on all that tedious living in a plastic Martian Yurt complex, too.

    • I’m actually very excited to see what they do for Orion for some clues about what may have happened in 69. I believe we landed on the moon but dont necessarily believe the official narrative. There are a host of implausible explanations I’m sticking with my opinion that the money shot images were done on earth studios. Armstrong missed his calling as the next ansel adams without an eyepiece and camera strapped to chest. Beautiful shot after beautiful shot in sequence no accidental images of the ground or bad framing or missed f stop. N ever A S traight. A nswer

      • What specifically are you doubting? If we actually went to the moon, then anything we could do on the moon would be easier actually done there rather than faking it. Sorry, but this is one of the conspiracy theories that makes LESS sense when you try to meet it halfway.
        As for the perfect shots, that’s because you saw about 2-5% of the photos, and most of those were cropped to center the image (perhaps they were otherwise retouched for magazines, but I have no information on that). Also, NASA has every last original negative in a vault in Houston, but most aren’t worth looking at because of the points you said. According to NASA, they brought 2 magazines (of 160 shots each) plus 33 rolls of film. They don’t say the number of shots in Apollo 11, but Apollo 8 brought back 1,100 photographs despite having less film. With that many tries, you’re bound to have a good number of perfect photos.

      • I came within a closed requirement of getting to work on the test code for the Orion project. That is I was told I had the job, but before the background check could be completed the req was closed.
        Dang, that was one job I really wanted.

      • “That was the day I lost all respect for NASA”
        I’m betting that it wasn’t a task they requested.

      • “That was the day I lost all respect for NASA”
        forit was the day NASA announced the early end of the moon program and there next great mission: “Mission to Planet Earth”.
        Seriously you can’t make this stuff up. NASA’s great idea after the moon was to travel all the way to planet earth. And folks wonder if the moon mission was faked. Surely anyone with the technology to travel through billions of miles of space and arrive at earth could manage a trip to the moon.

  1. I doubt you could grow potatoes on Mars without doing it in a greenhouse with some kind of climate control.

  2. Since water is so hard to come by on Mars, would it not make more sense to use some sort of closed loop hydroponics as a means of growing stuff? (Maybe even include a Tilapia fishfarm in the loop too to aid the nitrate / nitrite cycle)
    Would enough of the water evaporate from the soil & plants be collected on the dome?
    Would it not follow gravity and just sink down into the groundwater ?
    Wait there’s groundwater on Mars ?!
    Surely some of the water that shaped the canyons eons ago sank into the ground !
    Send up the drilling rigs…

  3. All you need is a Mormon, a few potato eyes, and you will have potatoes. In fact, if they ever colonize Mars, the first ones there will be Mormon agricultural companies. They are good at it.

    • Pamela! I have seeds, A purple potato that breeds true, grows in really tough conditions, long or short season. And is very tasty. But takes about 3 generations of tuber propagation to be able to produce 6 to 8 oz tubers @ projected yield of 500 sacks to the acre. A good yield for any variety. After 3 years in the refrigerator the seed germination was over 70%. So I now have several hundred new plants to again test…pg

  4. Maybe a better idea would be to use CRISPR–Cas9 and genetically modify humans to have reptilian traits. Take the best parts of snakes, lizards and turtles and cook up some really low metabolism features and edit our DNA. It maybe possible to drastically cut down our calorie/water/oxygen requirements. Throw in some gene-drive technology and we won’t even have to start from scratch with embryos we can just modify existing adult specimens. It’s a brave new world eh?

  5. Even if there were sufficient carbon dioxode, water, oxygen, and daytime highs near 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the extreme cold occurring every night, well below freezing, simply precludes the growing of nearly all plants without special protection, such as a greenhouse.

    • The extreme cold of Mars prompted me to pose the hypothetical question: If CO2 is a greenhouse gas that traps heat, then how much CO2 do we need to add to Mars’ atmosphere to produce a warmer climate?
      That’s when I learned that Mars’ atmosphere is already 95% CO2. And, there is no formula for how much heat CO2 traps. We can’t even formulate an equation for the “greenhouse gas” property of CO2 when it makes up 95% of the atmosphere. We should be able to measure how much heat and for how long the Mars’ atmosphere traps when the sun goes down. Alas, there is no such formula and there is no way to measure the greenhouse gas property. Is it the only property that can’t be measured? If NASA did have a way for the Mars’ Rover to measure the heat trapping effects of the atmosphere, it would necessarily be on the same order of magnitude as how long a room full of mirrors stays lit after turning off the lights.
      Three sister planets with relatively similar sizes and distances from the sun:
      Venus 95% CO2
      Earth .004% CO2
      Mars 95% CO2
      One of these planets supports Carbon-based life forms which consume CO2 when considered in totality.

      • Mars actually has more CO2 in it’s atmosphere than the earth does. Not percentage, but total.

  6. One thing for sure – if a major, staple food crop is so adaptable, there is a realistic chance of growing it on another planet, claims that a few degrees global warming might cause mass starvation are utterly implausible. Absolute worst case, we might all have to develop a taste for more potatoes.

    That’s assuming a lot about access to different crops, knowledge of their cultivation and climatic limitations, understanding of the different hardnesses to different environmental stresses, and acceptance of the change in food.
    This is the reason why a lot of adaptation to climate change goals align with development goals in the world’s poorest places. The key element is going to be education.
    The rainfall in Africa is very sensitive to SST, and it is often considered that the droughts over the past 30 years may have been contributed to by AGW. “May well have happened already” is probably more accurate than “utterly implausible”.
    Increasing drought under global warming in observations and models
    Impact of regional climate change on
    human health

    • I suggest the main problem in most of Africa is no good deed goes unpunished – any attempt to create value, to improve infrastructure, is quickly stolen or smashed by the nearest warlord.

    • “Seth
      March 16, 2016 at 6:25 pm
      The rainfall in Africa is very sensitive to SST, and it is often considered that the droughts over the past 30 years may have been contributed to by AGW.”
      Complete garbage Seth. If you support this post and it’s contents, you have no clue about weather in Africa.

      • Hi Patrick.
        I’m trying to understand what you think is complete garbage.
        Do you claim that both African rainfall is not very sensitive to SST, and that recent droughts have not been attributed in any part to AGW?
        And is your very best evidence for your position “you have no clue about weather in Africa”?

      • Everything bad has been attributed to CO2, so the fact that a few nut cases are claiming that droughts in Africa were also caused by it is not evidence of anything.

  7. Averages don’t matter to plants. It’s the extremes that make or break a successful garden. What does it matter if daytime temps on Mars are OK for potatoes if nighttime temps are not: “A summer day on Mars may get up to 70 degrees F (20 degrees C) near the equator, but at night the temperature can plummet to about minus 100 degrees F (minus 73 C).” Note – minus 70 C at night even in summer!
    Also, the air pressure is so low that there is no surface water (outside of polar ice).You would still need a greenhouse like structure to create sufficient atmospheric pressure to allow the soil to retain moisture.
    (Low density of atmosphere makes movie plot thickener of winds (up to 60 mph) able to plow spaceship over impossible.)

      • > Low density of atmosphere makes movie plot thickener of winds
        Just like on Earth, CO2 is capable of doing whatever is required of it to drive the plot forward.

    • I hear you, but there are some interesting features of the experiment;
      1. Potatoes grown in the Andes must be very frost tolerant. I’m not sure if that means -70c frost tolerant, but a large part of the growing season nighttime would be very cold. Worst case it might be possible to drape plastic over the fields, the way plastic is used on Earth to protect fragile crops at the cold start of the growing season in Northern latitudes. Or it might be possible to warm the crop land a little, say with a microwave beam from a solar power satellite.
      2. Air pressure is low, but partial pressure of CO2 is higher than Earth.
      I agree about the water thing, but there might be possible solutions. Apart from the Matt Damon greenhouse idea (so maybe just enough above ambient pressure to make liquid water feasible), there are locations on Mars where the air pressure is unusually high, the bottom of really huge impact craters, that sort of thing, places where the surface is thousands of metres below Martian ground level.

      • It would seem Eric, that a handy precursor would be to seed mars with Earth’s more hardy Antarctic bacteria and plants (not a lot of those outside the presence of liquid water) and let that run exponentially for a century, to help mobilize nutrients and build some essential carbon content as the basis for slow soil formation. You need dead bacteria in there to get the carbon build up.
        Now if you could get a surface bacteria or plant bloom, such as a dark green lichen, for instance, that would made albedo much lower, so absorb much more of the radiation at surface, so you’ve just made life so much easier and introduced viable global photosynthesis.
        High albedo and low light is after all Antarctica’s problem, for supporting life and thus limiting heating need for maintaining liquid fresh water.
        If there are viable niches for extremophiles they’ll find it, but only if you distribute them on the air with drones, distributed at high altitude from a falling capsule and putting spores into the atmosphere, at a range of latitudes and altitudes.
        So keep seeding the drone capsules for 100 years, year after year, and its bound to seed the planet and begin blooms in isolated locations. Then it’s a wait and see.

      • Lichen
        Response to environmental stress
        Unlike simple dehydration in plants and animals, lichens may experience a complete loss of body water in dry periods. Lichens are capable of surviving extremely low levels of water content (poikilohydric). They quickly absorb water when it becomes available again, becoming soft and fleshy. Re-configuration of membranes following a period of dehydration requires several minutes or more.
        In tests, lichen survived and showed remarkable results on the adaptation capacity of photosynthetic activity within the simulation time of 34 days under Martian conditions in the Mars Simulation Laboratory (MSL) maintained by the German Aerospace Center (DLR).
        The European Space Agency has discovered that lichens can survive unprotected in space. In an experiment led by Leopoldo Sancho from the Complutense University of Madrid, two species of lichen—Rhizocarpon geographicum and Xanthoria elegans—were sealed in a capsule and launched on a Russian Soyuz rocket 31 May 2005. Once in orbit, the capsules were opened and the lichens were directly exposed to the vacuum of space with its widely fluctuating temperatures and cosmic radiation. After 15 days, the lichens were brought back to earth and were found to be in full health with no discernible damage from their time in orbit.

      • And remember those those windy Marian dust storms?

        Reproduction and dispersal
        Vegetative reproduction
        Many lichens reproduce asexually, either by a piece breaking off and growing on its own (vegetative reproduction) or through the dispersal of diaspores containing a few algal cells surrounded by fungal cells. Because of the relative lack of differentiation in the thallus, the line between diaspore formation and vegetative reproduction is often blurred. Fruticose lichens can easily fragment, and new lichens can grow from the fragment (vegetative reproduction). Many lichens break up into fragments when they dry, dispersing themselves by wind action, to resume growth when moisture returns.

      • “Unmentionable
        March 16, 2016 at 9:51 pm”
        They need very clean air. New Zealand is a great place to study them, even hang from trees. I studied them in a place called Pitlochry in Scotland, a beautiful place by any measure, albeit a bit wet a lot of the time LMAO.

    • Averages don’t matter to plants.
      That’s not exactly true, although it may not matter for cultivars as much.
      Here’s a for-instance looking at Australian Eucalypts – While temperature extremes cover dozens of degrees, the majority of species are outcompeted outside a narrow range of mean annual temperature, of a few degrees. Fully a quarter of species are naturally constrained within a range of less than one degree celsius.
      We present data on the climatic ranges of 819 species of Eucalyptus L’Herit in Australia, in terms of mean annual temperature and rainfall. 53% of species currently have ranges spanning less than 3°C of mean annual temperature, with 41% having a range of less than 2°C, and 25% with less than 1°C 23% of species have ranges of mean annual rainfall that span less than 20% variation.Climatic Range Sizes of Eucalyptus Species in Relation to Future Climate Change

      • “Seth
        March 16, 2016 at 11:33 pm
        Averages don’t matter to plants.
        That’s not exactly true, although it may not matter for cultivars as much.”
        Plants know and understand averages, a human, made up, construct? Really?

    • I kinda favour steering a few wet comets into Mars. Without any life forms beyond soil bacteria and maybe mushrooms that live on them, what’s the issue? Mars used to be wet and watery. We can just fix that up. The atmosphere has to be initiated at a scale large enough to support a plant system that can maintain it for a few hundred centuries. By planning the impacts carefully, the mass and orbit can be tweaked to match well. Once there is enough atmosphere to support liquid water, the biomes can be established.
      There may be a heck of a lot of water underground. The Earth’s mantle contains about twice as much water as the surface oceans.

      • The Horizon spacecraft fly past Pluto last summer and discovered the dwarf planet’s surface is covered with water, mostly ice, H20. Water has been observed to flow on Mars. We are essentially certain oceans were once present on Mars. Water seems to be present in massive quantities on some of Jupiter and Saturn’s moons. Even the dwarf planet Ceres in the asteroid belt is thought to have liquid water beneath it surface.
        What is the source of all this extra terrestrial water? Maybe there are more wet comets out there delivering water than we suspect.

    • Averages don’t matter to plants.
      don’t let Mikey Mann hear you. a whole branch of science believes you can calculate the average temperature of the earth based on what trees have to say, so long as you make sure to chose the right tree. Not all trees have the story right. The skill is in recognizing those trees that grew up telling lies, and those trees that grew up telling the truth. That skill requires a true scientist.

  8. A better solution than actually going to Mars would be to have people surreptitiously live in a televised Martian movie set here on Earth – you know, like Big Brother.

  9. They need to plant a bin of the potato’s garden cousin, tomatoes. And basil. Otherwise, I’m not going.

  10. With all that fossil fuel burning, global warming and stuff, shouldn’t they rather be testing conditions like on Venus? ’cause that’s where we’re headed. /sarc

  11. I don’t know why they’re going through all the trouble to do some actual testing of potatoes growing under harsh conditions – why don’t they just model it?

  12. It makes more sense for NASA to research growing potatoes on Mars than speculating about temperature rise on earth.

    • They’re not simulating gravity. RE pampering, you are of course right – its a tradeoff between low yields and the cost of pampering, with a likely sweet spot somewhere between the two extremes. Of course, if by some miracle you could get a potato to grow outdoors, in unimproved Martian conditions, the vast land area available might make up for low yields.

  13. So, let me get this. NASA thinks a plant that evolved in conditions on this rock, will be OK to plant on another completely different, un-earth like, rock? And here’s me thinking NASA lost it with the Muslim Outreach program. NASA seems not to be too worried these days about earth organisms contamination a alien world.

    • Agree. NASA is screwed up thinking long term manned space flight beyond LEO has any realm of reality. Potatoes…. Shheeeesh!!! The research grants given out to study these things.
      I’d rather they work on GM potatoes to grow here on old Terra where people can actually live.

  14. Comments? Comments? Please people. We don’t need no stinkin’ comments. Some stories just speak for themselves. As for me, I’m speechless.

  15. The one thing that amazes me about folks who want to go live on Mars…. WTFO!!!
    It’s colder than Antartica, lethal in atmospheric pressure, and sterilizing for life due to solar UV and cosmic ray bombardment. Again … WTFO???
    One word…. Robots.
    While I sit by my pool on a comfortable summer night enjoying an adult beverage, some AI-enabled robot can tell how fucked up it is on Mars via my iPad.

  16. In the early 1990’s, we found a sodium borate mine called Loma Blanca in Jujuy Province in Northern Argentina at about 4200m elevation amsl. We funded this discovery 50:50 with INCO (International Nickel Company).
    Herds of wild vicunas were visible, always in the distance, and the occasional ostrich roamed the range – they were very fast and nasty.
    The local people lived in villages with no apparent government or medical services. The air was thin and some non-natives found it difficult to survive without oxygen at night. In winter, temperatures dropped to -40C (-40F) because of the altitude, even though it was not that far south of the equator.
    The local people grew little potatoes and raised llamas in this high desert. These people were very nice, amiable and hardy. I liked them and think of them often.
    Regards to all, Allan
    More than 4,000 varieties of native potatoes grow in the Andean highlands of Peru, Boliva, and Ecuador. Selected over centuries for their taste, texture, shape and color, these potato varieties are very well adapted to the harsh conditions that prevail in the high Andes, at altitudes ranging from 3,500 to 4,200 meters. Farmers generally produce these native varieties with minimal or no use of agrochemicals. Diversity is conserved on farms and in communities for subsistence use and as a highly valued heritage. Most of these varieties never see a market; they are traded among highland and lowland communities and given as gifts for weddings and other occasions. The varieties differ from community to community. It is believed that wild tubers were first domesticated around 8,000 years ago by farmers who lived on the high plains and mountain slopes near Lake Titicaca, which borders modern-day Bolivia and Peru. The tubers grew well in the cold, harsh climate and quickly took root as a centerpiece around which life revolved.
    – See more at:

    • Allan – no ostriches in South America, stricly African. They would have been Rheas, which are native to Argentina and the neighboring countries – except Chile I think. As far as potatoes go, they are a “most likely to succeed” plant for Mars.

  17. Given that this is St Patrick’s day…let me warn the future settlers on Mars that over reliance on potatoes as a staple, might not be a great idea!

  18. I was once scared by a humble potato.
    I was clearing out my Aunt’s kitchen when I heard a crack behind me. The place was a bit spooky and likely to have mice or rats so I expected some invader when I heard a noise where no noise should have been. The kick board under the units had been pushed off and a pallid tentacle was poking out from underneath. It must be a prehistoric response but a pale snake like shape on the floor makes you jump somewhat.
    When I investigated, I discovered an enormous potato shoot and one, by now, tiny shrivelled spud that must have rolled through a gap weeks if not months before. I felt a spark of admiration for the brave spud sending out a three foot shoot in search of light and having the last desperate trial of pushing over the wooden board but instead of planting it, I cast it into the bin for making me jump like a five year old.

  19. If you want to live well and be healthy, eliminate GPS from your diet. Grain, Potato, sugar.
    The food pyramid has about as much scientific validation as most climate science.

  20. Why poor, innocent potatoes? What have they ever do to us? Instead of potatoes why not send the current crop of political leaders to Mars? There would be multiple benefits accruing to American citizens and the rest of the world, and NASA could save money sending them there by reducing the amount of supplies and equipment that would be needed, i.e., no heat producing equipment as these bloviating imbeciles can produce prodigious amounts of hot air; no fertilizer will be needed as pretty much everything they have to say is already full of excrement.

  21. From the article, they are importing soil from nutrient poor areas, probably at great expense. But are they really trying to replicate the Martian soil? From what I understand, Martian soil is full of perchlorates. Plants may not grow at all or could end up toxic. Perchlorates can be washed out, but that takes quite a bit of water.

  22. Let’s accept that this is a complete waste of money. Sadly our tax dollars down the drain.
    Given the vast areas on earth avaialbe for simple farming, maybe they could help the hungry around the world grow potatoes here first

    • Learning something is only a waste of money for the committedly ignorant. The tax dollars are not “down the drain,” if you think about it. Those dollars were spent here on earth, meaning that they circulate, in turn meaning that the value of the existence of those research dollars is amplified each time they change hands – so consider one example of the the money flow: taxes -> contract disbursement -> scientific staff:engineering staff:office staff:development:resource/material acquistions -> groceries:property tax:fuel:car:kids:education:taxes.
      During the “space race” many folks complained bitterly about “all that money shot into space.” I recall pointing out to my father in law that no money at all was shot into space. It would have been useless there. Instead it was spent on earth to develop and buy equipment that would be useful in space. At the same time the research lead directly, for better or worse, to the technological environment we live in to day. Of course he then pointed out that the electronics had gold in them and “gold is money,” that from an engineer working on working on the Saturn Five rocket engines.

  23. Bit of an old story. NASA were funding this work in the 80’s – I referenced this is my PhD:
    Wheeler, R.M., and T.W. Tibbetts. 1986. Utilization of potatoes for life support systems in
    space: I.Cultivar-photoperiod interactions. Amer. Potato1.63:315-323.

  24. It would be more feasible to grow potatoes on Venus. 😀
    Not on the surface, of course, since the average temperature on the surface is over 450 degrees celsius, but up in the the sky, at 50 Km over the surface the temperature is 75 degress celsius and the pressure is 1.066 atm. At 55 Km over the surface the temperature is 27 degrees celsius and the pressure is 0.534 atm. Similar pressure as Loma Blanca, the Argentinan Village Allan McRae mentioned on a post above this one, and better temperature for growing potatoes.
    Besides, given that the atmosphere is composed mainly of CO2, (97%), and more dense that Earth air, (1.95 Kg/m³ vs. 1.29 Kg/ m³ at standard ambient temperature and pressure) breathable air is a lifting gas in Venus. A balloon filled with Earth air would create buoyancy. You may breath inside the balloon and potatoes can grow outside 😛
    There is plenty of the main nutrient, CO2, which is the source of C and O. You’ll have to bring water and other nutrients for the potatoes to grow, though. And potatoes will produce O2 as byproduct.

    • urederra
      LOVE IT, ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT !!! Terra-form Venus with orbiting farms. Generate oxygen and sequester CO2 in biomass. Collect interspatial hydrogen and make water with the O2 generated by potatoes (kudos to Dan Quail for the spelling). With the gravity and insolation on Venus, it is much more inviting for humans than Mars.
      NO! WAIT! With a national debt of $19T, don’t give NASA any more ideas.

  25. Potatoes do need specific nutrients. On top of nitrogen, they need a bit of sulfer. planted a couple of weeks ago and have 8″ tall plants. Of course most potatoes grow best in sandy soil conditions than they do in the clay of Galveston county Texas. my best solution is placing loose compost and soil on top and continue to add through the growing season. Thus having potatoes roots grow upeard.

  26. This is a nice break from the Climate Change Cultural Revolution operating at federal agencies.

  27. “My Favorite Martian” did fine on Earth. Why wouldn’t “My Favorite Spud” do fine on Mars?

  28. So you are on a rocket ship two months out from Earth. Destination: Mars. You have seed potatoes to grow for food once you get there. If they won’t grow . . . you die. But they grew on Earth in simulated conditions, so you should be fine.
    Or . . . you are bound for Mars with enough food on board to carry you through your mission, with some to spare. One of your missions is to test to see if you can grow potatoes on Mars. If it fails (or succeeds), your report it back to Houston. Future missions will expand on the potato growing test.
    It’s possible they’ll find useful information on earth. I doubt it. But the cost of Earth bound testing is radically cheaper than testing on Mars, so it will be a good idea someday. Not now.

  29. Perhaps NASA is encouraging KFC and McDonalds to pitch in for the cost of the next launch.

  30. Patrick MJD
    March 16, 2016 at 11:37 pm wrote:
    “Ben D
    March 16, 2016 at 11:01 pm”
    “Not sure how they will “solve” the magnetic field, gravity and radiation “problems” on Mars for current humans in their current form, but it seems they believe smashing rocks together is what we do best to solve problems!”
    Well, if the people at NASA or the billionaire space entreprenuers had any sense, they would give up the extremely difficult task of trying to establish humans on Mars.
    Instead, they should go find themselves a small asteriod, hollow it out, fill it with air and light and soil, rotate in around its long axis, to produce Earth-equivalent “gravity”, and they will have a perfect human habitat in space. They can locate it to an orbit around Mars, if they are facinated by the planet, and can visit Mars any time they want, and can then return to their safe habitat in orbit.
    For illustration, let’s say we find an asteriod of suitable compostion, that is one milie in diameter and four miles long. We hollow this asteriod out using waterjet cutters, seal the ends, fill it with an atmosphere, and rotate the structure at one revolution per minute around the long axis which generates one Earth-equivalent “gravity” on the inside of the habitat. Double the size of the asteriod and reduce the rotation rate by half and you get the same Earth-equivalent “gravity” on the inside.
    A habitat like this protects humans from radiation, and allows humans to live in comfort and the same kind of environment as the Earth. This is the future. Living on Mars is a sideshow.
    BTW, we could have already had outposts around both the Moon and Mars a long time ago. I blame former NASA Administrator Goldin. 🙂 NASA had a bureaucrat leading it when we needed someone with vision.
    NASA had all the hardware and money they needed to do these jobs, at the time, but they frittered this all away because that was not the focus of Goldin.
    Without vision, the People’s space program perishes.
    NASA could have put a space station in Earth orbit for $5 billion, and one launch of the space shuttle. And not much more for a space station around the Moon and Mars (the extra propellants required would increase the costs). Instead, they spent over $100 billion and ten years building the monstrocity we have up there now, that we can’t even get to it without the permission of the Russians. Oh, how the mighty have fallen!
    A moron or two in the wrong place can do a lot of damage.

  31. What if the Food Police decide potatoes are bad for you . . . again? Do they have jurisdiction on Mars?

  32. When I was in third grade I had a plan for terraforming the Moon. I wrote it up in a letter and sent it to NASA. A few weeks later I got a nice letter back explaining why my plan wouldn’t work. I still have the letter. It was from Wernher von Braun

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